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Does Diabetes Cause Dry Eye?

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Diabetes can significantly impact your eyes, increasing your risk of several eye diseases. If left unmanaged, diabetes can lead to significant eye complications. Many people wonder if diabetes can cause the development of dry eye disease—let’s find out if this is true.  

Continue reading to learn more about diabetes and dry eyes, including if diabetes can cause dry eye disease. 

Diabetes & Your Eyes

Over 34 million Americans live with diabetes, a common disease. There are 3 types of diabetes someone can develop: 

  • Type 1 diabetes: Occurring due to an autoimmune reaction, the body of someone with type 1 diabetes cannot make insulin. 
  • Type 2 diabetes: More common, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot use insulin effectively & keep blood sugar at a normal level. 
  • Gestational diabetes: A risk for someone pregnant—gestational diabetes can develop in people who have never had diabetes before, increasing their child’s risk of diabetes later in life. 

Diabetes affects how your body uses insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. When you have diabetes, your body either has problems making enough insulin or using it properly, causing your blood sugar to rise. 

When blood sugar is high for long periods, it can damage the blood vessels in your retina, an essential part of the eye necessary for vision. When these blood vessels become damaged, it can lead to potential vision problems, including severe vision loss

What Eye Conditions Does Diabetes Increase Your Risk Of? 

Anyone with diabetes is at risk of diabetic eye disease, a general term to describe eye problems that can affect people with this disease. These problems include: 

Diabetes can increase your risk of several eye conditions, including dry eyes. 

What Is Dry Eye? 

Dry eye disease, or dry eye, is a common condition where your tears cannot effectively hydrate the eyes. When this happens, it leads to several irritating symptoms, including: 

  • A stinging, burning, scratching sensation 
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Eye redness
  • Foreign object sensation
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
  • Watery eyes

These symptoms occur due to problems with your tear film, causing tear production or evaporation complications. Your tear film has 3 layers (mucus, water, oil) that work together to keep your eyes protected and comfortable. These layers keep tears fastened to your eye, hydrate and protect against bacteria, and prevent your tears from drying out too quickly. 

What Causes Dry Eye? 

When you have dry eyes, you may not produce enough tears, have poor quality tears leading to faster evaporation, or have a combination of both problems. 

Depending on the type of dry eye, there are many possible causes for your symptoms, including: 

The Relationship Between Diabetes & Dry Eye

While there’s no guarantee diabetes will cause dry eye, it does increase your risk of experiencing this condition. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can experience dry eye because of their high blood sugar. 

Elevated blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage in the eyes, leading to decreased tear production. High blood sugar can also increase inflammation in the body, making it harder for the glands producing your tears (the lacrimal glands) to function effectively. 

Research suggests approximately 15–33% of people with diabetes over the age of 65 have dry eyes, and this risk increases with time. Additional research suggests that people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing dry eye disease

a man with diabetes uses eye drops to treat his dry eye

Treating Dry Eye

If you have diabetes and dry eye, you don’t need to worry about finding specialty treatments. Previous research from 2016 shows no significant differences between treatment for dry eye patients with and without diabetes. If you have diabetes, your eye doctor will likely remind you of the importance of managing your blood sugar levels and continue to recommend annual eye exams to look for changes in your vision and eye health. 

When addressing dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend several treatment options. Depending on your unique needs and the cause of your symptoms, you may receive some of the following treatment suggestions: 

Find Relief from Dry Eyes, No Matter the Cause

Regardless of the cause of your symptoms, dry eye is an uncomfortable and irritating condition. However, you can find relief from dry eyes with your eye doctor’s help. They can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and recommend a customized treatment plan for your dry eye needs. 

Contact your optometrist if you’re looking to relieve your dry eye symptoms. 

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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