Glaucoma and Diabetes: What Is the Relationship?

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Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) medical condition that, if not properly managed, can lead to various complications. These include problems with the kidneys, nerves, feet, gums, and eyes. Diabetes doubles the risk of developing glaucoma, a group of eye conditions that can lead to vision loss and blindness if not properly treated.

This article will discuss the link between diabetes and glaucoma, including how to treat and manage the conditions simultaneously.

Eye doctor performs examination for person with diabetes

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Connection Between Glaucoma and Diabetes

Diabetes, if not properly managed, can lead to vision problems. High blood glucose (sugar) levels can affect the fluid levels in your eye tissues, which may lead to swelling. This swelling can cause blurred vision. The vision impairment caused by swollen eye tissue is usually temporary and resolves once blood glucose levels return to normal.

However, if blood glucose levels remain high in the long term, tiny blood vessels in the eye may be damaged and can lead to more permanent injury to the eye.

New, thin, and delicate blood vessels may also begin to grow. These thin blood vessels are easily damaged and can bleed, ultimately leading to increased pressure inside the eye. These can lead to diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic eye disease includes a group of several eye problems, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes damage to the optic nerve which is the bundle of nerve fibers that relays messages from the eye to the brain.

An estimated 79.6 million people worldwide had glaucoma in 2020. Glaucoma can lead to partial or full blindness if not treated early and properly.


Having diabetes increases your risk of developing glaucoma two-fold. Some research suggests that having diabetes can increase a person’s risk of developing open-angle glaucoma (the most common type of glaucoma) by 36%. This increased risk is mainly due to the damage to the eye that high blood glucose levels can cause. 

There is not enough research available to suggest that someone with glaucoma is at higher risk of developing diabetes.

Having both diabetes and glaucoma, especially if the diabetes is not properly managed, can worsen glaucoma.

Treatment and Management of Glaucoma with Diabetes

Having two medical conditions can double your concerns about how to care for both diseases. By working with your healthcare team and following the treatment plan set out by them, you can manage both conditions and still be productive and have a good quality of life.


There is no specific diet prescribed for people with diabetes and glaucoma. Nevertheless, a balanced, nutritious diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats is a good way to help manage diabetes and glaucoma.

For guidance on what to eat, talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

Physical Activity

Aerobic physical activity can benefit both diabetes and glaucoma. It’s recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly.

People with glaucoma should avoid exercises that cause them to invert their head or body, putting increased pressure on the eyes. This includes performing certain yoga positions.


Both diabetes and glaucoma are often managed with the aid of medications. Medications may be oral (pills), injectable, inhaled, or require drops to be placed in the eyes. If you are prescribed medication, always take it as directed.

Do not stop taking your medication without first talking with your healthcare provider. If your medication has undesirable side effects, speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about ways to help decrease the side effects or if a change in medication could help.

Laser Treatment and Surgery

Some treatment options for people with glaucoma include laser treatment and eye surgery. Laser treatment will often be considered before surgery because it is less invasive. Surgery for glaucoma won’t cure the disease or help you regain lost vision. However, it can help protect your current vision and prevent it from worsening.

Some people with type 2 diabetes may consider metabolic (bariatric) surgery to help them lose weight and possibly put their diabetes into remission. This surgery is not without side effects. The decision to undergo surgery must not be taken lightly.

Your healthcare provider can help you determine if you are a good candidate for this type of surgery and if it is right for you.

Related Conditions

With both diabetes and glaucoma, monitoring for other related conditions is critical. There may be a higher risk of developing other types of diabetic eye disease, such as retinopathy and cataracts. High blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, kidney disease, and nerve damage are also risks.


If you have diabetes or glaucoma, you may delay or prevent the development of the other condition by taking some extra measures.


Because of the higher risk of developing eye problems, it’s recommended that people with diabetes get an eye examination at least once a year. This is especially important because sometimes there aren’t any noticeable early symptoms of glaucoma.

Similarly, if you have glaucoma or have other risk factors for diabetes, it’s important to have regular diabetes screenings by your healthcare provider. In addition to eye exams and diabetes screenings, your healthcare provider may perform other screenings, such as for high blood pressure and cholesterol. 

Lifestyle Changes

Participating in healthy lifestyle activities, including regular physical activity and eating a nutritious diet, benefits everyone. A healthy lifestyle can help people with diabetes and glaucoma better manage their conditions and help prevent complications.

If you have diabetes or glaucoma, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before starting a new diet or exercise routine. Other lifestyle changes that can be beneficial include avoiding smoking and getting enough quality sleep each night.

Symptoms to Watch For

If you have diabetes and experience any of the following symptoms related to diabetic eye disease, talk with your healthcare provider for a possible screening or examination:

  • Blurry vision
  • Vision that frequently changes—sometimes daily
  • Dark areas in the eye or vision loss
  • Poor color vision
  • Spots or dark strings in your field of vision (called floaters)
  • Flashes of light

The following are signs of symptoms of diabetes to be aware of:


Having diabetes increases your risk of developing glaucoma. Having glaucoma also increases your risk of developing diabetes. Increased pressure in the eye can cause the development of abnormal blood vessels, which may lead to diabetic eye disease, including glaucoma.

Comanaging these conditions often requires lifestyle changes (such as to diet and physical activity), medication, and surgery. Regular screenings, including eye exams, blood glucose checks, and others, can help prevent or delay additional complications.

A Word From Verywell

Having both diabetes and glaucoma may feel overwhelming. However, by working with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan and lead a healthy lifestyle, you can help prevent or delay complications from developing. Many people with glaucoma and diabetes lead happy and productive lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does diabetes increase the risk of glaucoma?

    Having diabetes increases your risk of developing glaucoma twofold. Diabetes can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow in the eye along with increased pressure in the eye. Regular eye exams and controlling your blood glucose and blood pressure levels can help protect your vision.

  • What kind of glaucoma do people with diabetes get?

    Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma for all people and is the type of glaucoma many people with diabetes develop. Neovascular glaucoma is a rare type of glaucoma that people with diabetes develop.

  • How long does it take for diabetes to damage eyes?

    Damage to the eyes from diabetes usually occurs slowly and over many years, often without noticeable signs or symptoms. Some experts say it can take about five to 10 years for major eye problems to develop with diabetes.

    This is why it’s important to get an annual eye exam, as early detection and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and protect your vision.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic eye disease.

  2. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Diabetes and your eyesight.

  3. World Glaucoma Association. Glaucoma information: statistics.

  4. Zhao YX, Chen XW. Diabetes and risk of glaucoma: systematic review and a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Int J Ophthalmol. 2017;10(9):1430-1435. doi:10.18240/ijo.2017.09.16

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Glaucoma and exercise: what to tell your patients.

  7. National Eye Institute. Glaucoma surgery.

  8. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Type 2 diabetes and metabolic surgery.

  9. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Weight-loss surgery side effects.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put the brakes on diabetes complications.

  11. National Eye Institute. Diabetic retinopathy.

  12. Glaucoma Research Foundation. What is glaucoma?

  13. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Exercise, diet and other lifestyle changes for people living with glaucoma.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes symptoms.

  15. American Academy of Ophthalmology. 6 surprising facts about diabetes and your eyes.

By Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDCES
Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.