More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and the disease has the potential to cause problems throughout the entire body. Diabetes, particularly when uncontrolled, increases the risk of nerve damage, stroke, kidney disease, hypertension, and heart attack. You may also be surprised to learn that diabetes can increase your risk for eye diseases and can even cause diabetes-related vision loss. Learning how to control your diabetes and take care of your eyes is essential if you want to prevent serious eye diseases that may cost you your sight.
Potential Diabetic Eye Conditions
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye conditions that often affect patients with diabetes, particularly those who have uncontrolled diabetes. Some of these eye conditions include:
- Diabetic Retinopathy – As diabetes progresses, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can result in damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, causing a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This damage can result in the tiny blood vessels leaking or hemorrhaging, which can distort vision. It’s the most common cause of diabetes-related vision loss, and unfortunately, there are generally no symptoms in the early stages.
- Glaucoma – Diabetes also raises the risk of glaucoma, which occurs when there’s too much pressure on the inside of the eye. An increase of pressure on the optic nerve may result in permanent vision loss over time. A severe form of glaucoma that may affect people with diabetes is neovascular glaucoma.
- Diabetic Macular Edema – In approximately 50% of individuals with diabetic retinopathy, fluid begins to build up in the macula, causing a condition known as diabetic macular edema. The primary symptom of this condition is blurry vision.
- Cataracts – While cataracts can affect anyone, patients with diabetes often get them at a younger age. Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens, which doesn’t allow the eye to focus. In people who are diabetic, quicker lens deterioration often occurs.
Tips for Preventing Diabetic Eye Disease
The risk of diabetes-related health problems is high, especially if you don’t take proper measures to control your diabetes and care for your eyes. Use the following essential tips to control your disease and prevent eye conditions that may lead to blindness.
- Tip #1 – Have Yearly Eye Exams – It’s important to have an eye exam at least once a year to make sure any problems are caught early and treated immediately. If you already have diabetic-related eye problems, you may need to have exams every six months. During an exam, the eye doctor will dilate your pupils so the blood vessels in the eyes can be checked for any early signs of damage.
- Tip #2 – Control Blood Sugar – Most diabetic eye conditions are caused by blood sugar that’s out of control. The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is to make sure your blood sugar is kept under control. You should have an A1C blood test several times a year to monitor blood sugar levels over the long term and you should have a result of 7 or under. Daily monitoring, eating right, and taking diabetic medications as prescribed can help you make sure blood sugar levels are controlled.
- Tip #3 – Pay Attention to Blood Pressure – Since blood pressure can also cause eye disease, the combination of diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk. Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If you already have high blood pressure, follow medication regiments and other instructions from your doctor to control it.
- Tip #4 – Quit Smoking – Since smoking can cause problems with blood vessels, it further increases the risk of developing diabetic eye conditions. If you already have damage to your eyes, it can make recovery even more difficult. It’s not easy to quit, so consider asking your doctor for advice and help.
- Tip #5 – Lower Cholesterol Levels – High levels of bad cholesterol have been linked to blood vessel damage, so if you already have high cholesterol, it’s important to work on lowering it. If your levels are high, your doctor may prescribe you a medication, but you can also lower cholesterol with healthy eating habits and exercise.
- Tip #6 – Exercise Regularly – Exercise has a huge impact on your blood sugar levels. When you get active, your body uses up that extra glucose in the blood stream, making it easier to keep blood sugar under control. Many people find that they’re able to reduce insulin doses or reduce medications when they stick with a regular exercise regimen. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
While diabetes does increase your risk of eye problems and diabetes-related vision loss, you can take many steps to control your health and reduce your risk. Of course, if you notice any changes in sight or vision problems, make sure you let your doctor know right away.