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Diabetes and eye surgery FAQs

Dr Christolyn Raj


Can I have eye surgery if I have diabetes?

Generally, people with diabetes can undergo any type of eye surgery. However, it is important to note that your suitability for eye surgery also depends on your general health and any other medical conditions you may have. In some cases, you may need to wait to have eye surgery until your general health has improved or your medical conditions are better controlled. Your ophthalmologist can advise you on whether eye surgery is suitable for you and when is the most suitable time for you to have eye surgery.

Your optometrist and ophthalmologist will often schedule a visit before surgery to check that your diabetes is not impacting your vision. Usually, this involves preliminary vision screening with your optometrist and more in-depth investigations with your ophthalmologist. If you require additional treatment, this will be discussed and organised several weeks before your scheduled eye surgery.

Your ophthalmologist, anaesthetist, surgical nurses, and clinical team are highly trained to deliver the best surgical outcomes for all patients, including those with diabetes. This includes providing a high standard of care during your preoperative assessment, during your surgery, as well as postoperative reviews.

Does my blood sugar and/or HbA1c need to be under control before surgery?

Diabetes is a complex disease and blood sugar level (BSL) readings tend to vary from patient to patient. As a result, your general practitioner and endocrinologist teach you the best way to control your diabetes – there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. This may mean that your average BSL reading or the three-monthly HbA1c reading needs to be in a particular range, so your diabetes is as well-controlled as possible. The best time to have any medical or surgical procedure, including eye surgery, is usually once you are within this range, as your outcome will be optimal.

For routine eye procedures, the risk of postoperative complications is small. However, you may further optimise the outcome of your surgery by making sure your blood sugar levels and/or HbA1c are in the ‘safe’ range.

To achieve this, your ophthalmologist will work together with your general practitioner and endocrinologist to make sure you are well-prepared for your procedure.

Will I need to fast before eye surgery?

In general, all patients are instructed not to eat or drink anything before having eye surgery. This is because your surgeon gives you relaxing medications before your eye procedure which can temporarily affect your body’s reflexes. If your stomach has food and drink inside it, there is a chance you could vomit or bring up food into your throat. If this happens, the food could enter your lungs and affect your breathing, as well as cause damage to your airways.

If you have diabetes and need to eat and drink regularly, you should discuss this with your eye doctor before your operation. Diabetic patients are often prioritised to be the first on the list for eye surgery to minimise the time spent fasting.

Will I need to stop taking my medication before eye surgery?

If you are taking any form of medication, including ones not related to your diabetes, you should let your ophthalmologist know. They may ask you to stop taking your medication depending on the type of surgery. For instance, on some occasions, you may need to stop taking your blood thinners before eye surgery.

This involves a discussion with your treating doctors and depends on your situation. If you are required to make any changes to your usual medications, rest assured that you will be provided with clear, written instructions well in advance of your surgery.

What can I do to best prepare myself for eye surgery?

The best thing you can do before eye surgery is to take note of the advice given to you by both your ophthalmologist and your general practitioner or endocrinologist when it comes to optimising your BSL. The longer your BSL remains in the optimal range for you (as discussed with your doctor), the more likely the surgery and recovery period will go well.

If I have diabetes, what can I expect following surgery?

There is no reason you cannot enjoy excellent vision after surgery. However, patients who have diabetes may find that their ‘follow-up pathway’ is a little different.

After your procedure, you may need to see your ophthalmologist more frequently, so that they can monitor any effect that your diabetes may be having on your eye. Although you may experience more visits to your eye doctor than you were expecting, this will be short-lived, and benefit you in the longer term.

What can I expect during the recovery period?

Usually, your recovery from eye surgery should not be impacted by your diabetes at all. However, you may experience some common symptoms during the recovery period. For instance, most patients experience a gritty sensation in the eye following cataract surgery. This is usually alleviated with the post-operative eye drops given to you, as well as good eyelid hygiene which your optometrists and/or ophthalmologist will provide you with instructions on.

It is important that you inform your eye care team of any symptoms you are experiencing, so these can be investigated. Your entire eye care team is trained to review and optimise the healing process during your post-surgery visits.

Following surgery, limit your daily activity – especially in the first week after your procedure. For example, this means taking a time-out from swimming, gardening and even golf. Wearing sunglasses outdoors is important during your recovery period and should be continued once your eye has healed, to protect your retina in the future.

You can continue to read and watch TV using your current glasses. However, it is likely that your prescription will need to change one month after surgery.

You should continue to take care of managing your diabetes as you normally would, including checking your BSL readings and taking your medications regularly, as instructed by your general practitioner or endocrinologist.

Dr Christolyn Raj is a Melbourne-trained ophthalmologist with expertise in cataracts, laser-assisted cataract surgery and retinal diseases, including age-related maculopathy, diabetes and retinal vein occlusion. She has established herself as a key figure in the field of retinal medicine, with several years of active research to her name, particularly in the area of diabetes. Dr Raj also specialises in paediatric ophthalmology. She practises at Vision Eye Institute Camberwell, Vision Eye Institute Coburg and leads an eye injection clinic at Vision Eye Institute Blackburn South.

With kind input from Mary Travis, optometrist at Vision Eye Institute Coburg.

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The information on this page is general in nature. All medical and surgical procedures have potential benefits and risks. Consult your ophthalmologist for specific medical advice.

Date last reviewed: 2023-05-19 | Date for next review: 2025-05-19

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