Complications from diabetes can result in eye-related health conditions. Eye injections of some medications can treat these conditions. These medications may include anti-VEGF drugs and corticosteroids.

Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that may occur when a person has diabetes.

These conditions occur as a complication of high blood sugar levels damaging blood vessels in the eye. In response, the retina grows new, weaker blood vessels that leak fluid and cause bleeding. Over time, this can lead to problems such as hemorrhages, increased pressure, and vision loss.

Diabetic eye conditions include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: This occurs as a result of blood vessel damage in the retina.
  • Diabetic macular edema: This occurs when there is swelling in the macula, which is part of the retina.
  • Glaucoma: This condition causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to partial or full vision loss. Diabetes can double a person’s risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Cataracts: This condition causes the lenses in the eye, which provide sharp vision, to become cloudy.

When a person with diabetes develops an eye condition such as diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema, an eye doctor may recommend injections directly into the eyes to help relieve symptoms. Medications that a doctor may inject include anti-VEGF medications and corticosteroids.

Read on to learn more about the different types of eye injections that can help treat eye conditions in a person with diabetes.

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If a person with diabetes develops diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema, an ophthalmologist may recommend medication injections directly into the eye as treatment.

These injections may help prevent new abnormal blood vessels from forming in the eyes and reverse inflammation. As a result, the injections can help improve vision problems or prevent them from worsening.

A person may receive any of the following types of eye injections to treat diabetes-related ocular conditions.

Anti-VEGF medications

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a protein that stimulates the formation of new blood vessels. In diabetic retinopathy, the body produces too much of this protein. This causes the blood vessels in the eye to grow abnormally and leak, leading to swelling and damage in the retina.

Anti-VEGF injections can block VEGF and help improve vision. Anti-VEGF injections typically improve vision for 1 in 3 people who receive them.

Typically, a person with diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema will need anti-VEGF injections once per month at first. Over time, they may need the injections less often and may eventually be able to stop them altogether.

However, some people may need anti-VEGF injections continuously to prevent their vision from deteriorating.


Corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the eyes when a person has diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema

Typically, a person will need a corticosteroid injection once per month while their symptoms are at their worst. However, a person may find that they need a recurring injection every month to stop symptoms from worsening.

If a person with a diabetes-related eye condition decides to have anti-VEGF or corticosteroid injections, a doctor may follow a procedure such as:

  1. Numb the surface of the eyeball with an anesthetic eye drop, an eye gel, or a small injection.
  2. Place antiseptic on the eye and eyelid to remove bacteria and prevent infection.
  3. Hold the eyelids open using a small instrument called a speculum.
  4. Inject the medication into the white part of the eye. The needle is very thin, so a person may feel pressure but should not feel pain.
  5. Clean the eye and check for any immediate complications.

For several hours after an eye injection for a diabetes-related eye condition, a person may experience some eye irritation.

Other risks and side effects of eye injections are rare but may include:

Several other treatments are available to treat diabetes-related eye conditions. These can include:

  • Laser treatment: A doctor uses a beam of high energy light that can shrink blood vessels, stop them from bleeding, and reduce VEGF expression. Laser treatment may prevent vision problems from getting worse but is less likely to improve vision.
  • Vitrectomy: A doctor removes the vitreous gel, which is the clear gel in the center of the eye. This procedure can help treat vision problems involving severe bleeding or scar tissue.
  • Cataract lens surgery: A doctor removes the cloudy lens that can form over the eye and replaces it with an artificial lens.

If a person has diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edema, an eye doctor may advise them to have injections into their eye. These injections may consist of anti-VEGF medications or corticosteroids.

Eye injections should be painless because a doctor will numb the eye. A person may feel a bit of pressure as the injection goes in. Side effects of eye injections are rare but can include sensitivity to light, dry or itchy eyes, and an increase of pressure inside the eye.