Living with diabetes can be challenging. You need to constantly monitor your blood sugar levels and be careful about what you eat and drink. Not to mention the daily medications or insulin shots you may need to take to keep your blood glucose in check.

Diabetes also comes with the risk of dry eye disease. That means your eyes may feel like there’s sand in them even when you haven’t even visited the beach.

As strange as this connection sounds, there are several reasons why diabetes causes dry eyes. In this post, we’ll cover these causes as well as management strategies to help you overcome diabetes-related dry eyes. Read on.

Link Between Diabetes and Dry Eye Disease

Put simply, diabetes is chronically high blood sugar levels. It occurs when your body either cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.

There are two common types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: This type of diabetes is an autoimmune condition. Your immune system mistakenly attacks your insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As a result, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Also known as diabetes mellitus, this type of diabetes is linked with insulin resistance. Your body doesn’t respond to insulin as effectively. Over time, your insulin production also tends to decrease.

Diabetes comes with a range of eye-related complications like retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. It also affects the functioning of your eye’s tear and oil-producing glands. As a result, what you have in store is dry eye syndrome.

glucose monitor, diabetes medicines and calendar, sugar cubes, and red donut scattered on the table

A whopping 54% of people with diabetes have dry eye disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Nerve damage, inflammation, and metabolic changes are some common ill-effects of high blood sugar levels. These often cause dysfunction of your lacrimal (tear) and meibomian (oil) glands.

When that happens, the quantity and quality of your tears deteriorate. You begin to experience early stage diabetes dry eyes symptoms, like frequent dryness, pain, and floaters.

Diabetes Dry Eye Symptoms

If you have diabetes, be on the lookout for these dry eye symptoms. Chances are, most of these may affect you from time to time.

  • Constant dry eyes
  • Eye pain and inflammation
  • Mucus in or around the eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Floaters
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye redness
  • Excessive tears to counter the dryness

Causes of Diabetes Dry Eye

Insulin plays a key role in the normal functioning of your tear and oil-producing glands. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes lead to inadequate insulin levels in your body.

What you have in store are several issues like neuropathy, chronic inflammation, hyperosmolarity, and more. Directly or indirectly, these are the major culprits behind diabetes and dry eyes.

Diabetic Neuropathy

With diabetes, you’re at an increased risk of diabetic neuropathy. That’s when prolonged high blood sugar damages nerves throughout your body. Your eyes are not safe from the effects of this condition either.

When your corneal nerves are affected, you have a reduced tear reflex, making your eyes more prone to dryness. You may also have blurriness and floaters.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is common when you have diabetes. That’s because elevated blood sugar levels trigger an inflammatory response in your body. And with inflammation comes dry eye disease.

Inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of your lacrimal and meibomian glands. This disruption leads to reduced tear production and instability in your tear film.

Metabolic Changes

Diabetes causes metabolic changes in your body. In turn, these changes alter the composition and stability of your tear film.

large lens held over the eye of old man with beard and moustache who has dry eye disease in black and white portrait

They affect the oily, watery, and mucous layers of your tears. Your poor quality tears evaporate quickly, making your eyes more prone to dryness and discomfort.


Elevated blood sugar levels in diabetes can lead to the hyperosmolarity of tears. When that happens, your blood draws water out of other organs to dilute the sugar to normal levels.

Your tear film may fall victim to this phenomenon. Hyperosmolarity will dry out your eyes and may cause unpleasant dry eye symptoms.

Vascular Changes

Diabetes can lead to vascular (blood vessel) changes too. This includes damage to the vessels that supply blood to your tear and oil-producing glands.

Reduced blood flow to these glands can compromise their function. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you have dry eye symptoms, like grittiness, pain, and excessive tearing (watery eyes) to compensate for the dryness.

Diabetes Medications

Certain medications may also be to blame for your dry eyes. For example, diuretics and certain blood pressure medications that may be prescribed to diabetes patients can have side effects that exacerbate dry eye symptoms.

If you think your common diabetes medication is causing dry eyes, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to adjust your treatment plan to alleviate dry eye issues.

Managing Diabetes-Related Dry Eyes

When you have diabetes-related dry eyes, you need to follow a two-step plan. This involves addressing both the underlying diabetes and the specific symptoms of dry eye disease.

Control Blood Sugar Levels

Elevated blood sugar levels can alter your tear composition, increase the osmolarity of tears, damage your blood vessels, and cause inflammation. Controlling your blood sugar is an effective way to address all these issues.

Make sure you follow the recommended diet for diabetes. Monitor your carbohydrate intake and limit added sugars.

Pay attention to what you eat and when, especially since type 2 diabetes symptoms include increased hunger and thirst.

Engage in Physical Activity

Walking, swimming, cycling, basically any form of physical activity is great for managing your diabetes. It will help improve insulin sensitivity and promote stable blood sugar levels.

older man and woman doing yoga on mats against leafy green background

But that’s not all. Research shows that exercising is also good for your dry eye symptoms. It primarily works to reduce inflammation in your eyes. That will help your tear and oil glands function more effectively.

Make Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle changes, like stress management, healthy sleep, and limiting alcohol consumption can help with your diabetic eyes symptoms. In turn, these will keep your dry eyes in check.

In addition, maintain proper eye hygiene, keep yourself hydrated, and avoid smoke and dry environments. Do this and you may experience a noticeable difference in your dry eye symptoms.

Take Nutritional Supplements

Metabolic changes due to diabetes can affect nutrient absorption. As a result, your body may become deficient in certain trace elements and minerals.

For instance, a 2020 study shows that a subgroup of diabetic patients have zinc and magnesium deficiencies. These are essential for maintaining good eye health.

An eye health supplement can also help. SightC is a natural superfood blend that provides your eyes with antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin as well as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your eyes need to stay healthy in the digital age.

Keep your eyes healthy and happy with SightC.

Keep Inflammation in Check

If you have diabetes, inflammation can’t be far behind. One way to alleviate inflammation that affects your eyes is to use a warm compress. It's easy to make and can soothe dry eye symptoms.

If the inflammation doesn’t subside, your doctor may recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications. These generally contain corticosteroids.

Practice Eye-Friendly Habits

Certain practices can have bad effects on your eyes and worsen the dryness. For instance, using digital devices for long hours can alter your blinking pattern and make your eyes feel dried out.

Similarly, certain practices can alleviate your eye dryness. You can improve humidity levels in your living space, wear sunglasses while being out to keep wind and dust at bay, and avoid eye makeup. These may be small steps, but they can lead to positive changes.

Other Diabetic Eye Problems

Diabetes makes your eyes dry and sandy. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also responsible for a number of other eye problems like retinopathy, macular edema, and blepharitis.

  • Diabetic retinopathy – This occurs when high blood sugar levels, a hallmark of diabetes, damage the blood vessels in your retina. The damaged blood vessels leak and swell, leading to diabetic retinopathy eye complications, like vision loss and even blindness.
  • Diabetic macular edema – High blood sugar also causes swelling in your macula, the central part of the retina. This will make it difficult for you to read, recognize faces, and see fine details.
  • Cataracts – Cataracts are when your eye lens becomes cloudy. While these are generally a byproduct of aging, diabetes can cause an earlier age of onset.
  • Glaucoma – This condition causes damage to your optic nerve, which helps transmit visual information from your eye to your brain. Having diabetes doubles your risk of developing glaucoma, according to the National Eye Institute.
  • Blepharitis: Blepharitis is the inflammation of your eyelids. Diabetes can also increase the risk for this condition.


While it’s true that living with diabetes is not easy, you don’t have to endure the pain of dry eyes either. 

The best approach is to first manage your blood sugar levels. Doing so will decrease your risk of neuropathy, inflammation, metabolic and vascular changes, and hyperosmolarity of tears.

old man with diabetes and dry eyes kissing his wife on the cheek on the beach with waves in the background

In addition, you can also make physical exercises a part of your everyday life. Together with adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and proper hydration, you will be on your way to managing diabetes-related dry eyes.

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