Diabetes is a disease with a wide range of symptoms and potential complications, and any diabetes sufferer knows that properly managing them is key to a longer and healthier life. Vision problems are a common problem associated with cases of diabetes, and one of the ways your eyes can be affected is by the development of subcapsular cataracts.

What are subcapsular cataracts?

Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye, located behind the iris and pupil, becomes cloudy over time, gradually limiting the cataract sufferer's vision and potentially causing blindness if left untreated for extended periods. Different types of cataracts are distinguished from one another by where the cloudiness occurs within the lens -- a subcapsular cataract, a type of cataract common to diabetes sufferers, occurs at the back of the lens. They can appear as a generalised cloudiness and blurriness of vision in the affected eye(s), but in rare cases they can resemble more opaque, snowflake-like patches of blindness (these cataracts are sometimes called snowflake or true diabetic cataracts)

How can cataracts be prevented?

As with many conditions linked to diabetes, the links between the two conditions have not been ascertained with certainty. However, keeping your blood sugar levels under control, and keeping instances of high blood sugar levels as rare as possible, is always the best way to treat diabetes and its associated illnesses. In fact, studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes can lower their chances of developing cataracts significantly with a mere 1% decrease in average blood glucose levels.

In addition, other risk factors can increase the chances of developing subcapsular cataracts, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Genetic predisposition (diabetes sufferers with a family history of cataracts should pay particular attention to their eyesight)
  • Excessive corticosteroid use
  • Excessive eye exposure to UV sunlight (eye protection is particularly important)
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Previous eye surgery

How can subcapsular cataracts be treated?

The bad news is that the only effective way to treat a subcapsular cataract is to have it removed surgically. The good news is that cataract surgery is a simple, low-risk procedure, usually performed under local anaesthetic. 

Consulting with an optometrist is generally the first step of receiving cataract surgery, although your doctor may refer you to one themself if they believe surgery to be necessary. Ideally, you should visit a cataract specialist -- though the risks of complications are still low, diabetes sufferers are more likely to incur minor side effects such as macular oedema. Look for a specialist with experience treating diabetic cataract sufferers.

Cataract surgery itself is remarkably simple. Once your eye has been anaesthetised with intravenous analgesics or anaesthetic eye drops, a small incision is made in your eye and the blurred lens is liquefied and sucked out. The lens is then replaced with a clear, artificial one. Barring any complications, you should be able to leave the hospital the same day.