What are ophthalmologic complications of type 1 diabetes mellitus (DM)?

Updated: Oct 08, 2021
  • Author: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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Diabetes can affect the lens, vitreous, and retina, causing visual symptoms that may prompt the patient to seek emergency care. Visual blurring may develop acutely as the lens changes shape with marked changes in blood glucose concentrations.

This effect, which is caused by osmotic fluxes of water into and out of the lens, usually occurs as hyperglycemia increases, but it also may be seen when high glucose levels are lowered rapidly. In either case, recovery to baseline visual acuity can take up to a month, and some patients are almost completely unable to read small print or do close work during this period.

Patients with diabetes tend to develop senile cataracts at a younger age than persons without diabetes. Rarely, patients with type 1 DM that is very poorly controlled (eg, those with frequent episodes of DKA) can acutely develop a “snowflake” (or “metabolic”) cataract. Named for their snowflake or flocculent appearance, these cataracts can progress rapidly and create total opacification of the lens within a few days.

Whether diabetes increases the risk of glaucoma remains controversial; epidemiologic studies have yielded conflicting results. [86] Glaucoma in diabetes relates to the neovascularization of the iris (ie, rubeosis iridis diabetica).

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