If you have diabetes, you are not alone. Statistics show that 9.3 percent of Americans have diabetes, with 1.4 million new diagnoses each year. This disease hits older Americans especially hard — 25.9 percent of seniors age 65 and older, or 11.8 million individuals, are estimated to have diabetes.
Diabetes takes a toll on many of the body’s most important systems and organs, and the disease can have a profound effect on your vision. Diabetes causes changes in the small blood vessels that supply the eye’s retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye, with essential nutrients.
While there are many serious eye conditions linked to diabetes, the good news is that with regular visits to your eye doctor, you’ll catch a problem in the early stages, when treatment is most successful.
Eye Conditions Linked to Diabetes
People with diabetes are “40 percent more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes,” according to the American Diabetes Association. This risk increases with age and with the length of time you’ve had diabetes. The pressure caused by glaucoma squeezes the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve, causing damage and a gradual loss of vision.
Individuals with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts, and they form at a younger age and progress faster than in people without diabetes. Cataracts are caused by the clouding of the eye’s clear lens, which blocks light.
Diabetes can also cause diabetic macular edema, a leading cause of distorted or blurred vision in adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetics. This condition occurs when blood vessels leak fluid into the macula, the central visual area of the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy is a broad term for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is responsible for up to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year. There are two major types of retinopathy: non-proliferative and proliferative. Both of these involve damage to the retina’s blood vessels to some degree, and they can exist for a while with no obvious symptoms, even the more dangerous proliferative retinopathy.
Promising treatments are available for diabetic retinopathy, and the best results are achieved with early diagnosis when vision is still normal — a great reason to stay on top of your regular eye exams!
How to Care for Your Vision and Your Diabetes
1. Most importantly, control your blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association points to long-term studies that show people who keep the tightest control on blood sugar levels and stay within normal ranges are significantly less likely to develop retinopathy:
“These impressive results show that you have a lot of control over what happens to your eyes,” the organization writes. “Also, high blood sugar levels may make your vision temporarily blurry.”
Keeping your blood sugar tightly controlled slows the damage to the tiny blood vessels in your eyes. See your physician for an A1c blood test several times a year, and aim for results of 7 percent or less, WebMD advises.
2. Bring high blood pressure under control if it’s a problem.
Although high blood pressure alone can cause eye disease, the combination of diabetes and high blood pressure is even more threatening to your vision. Monitor your blood pressure often, and aim for less than 140/80, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
3. Watch your cholesterol levels.
Too much “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol collects in your blood vessel walls and causes blockages and damage.
4. If you smoke, quit.
The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the structure and function of your blood vessels. Light smoking, occasional smoking, and secondhand smoke all threaten the health of your blood vessels as well.
5. Eat healthy meals.
Follow a healthy meal plan with a foundation of fresh, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Drink alcohol in moderation — two or fewer drinks per day for men and one or fewer drinks per day for women.
6. Commit to an exercise program that you enjoy.
Whether it’s power walking, swimming, cycling, or dancing, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If time’s short, grab two 15-minute sessions.
If you take insulin, be sure to ask your doctor when you should check your levels during your workouts. Determine how you should adjust your insulin doses and the foods you eat to manage your blood sugar during exercise.
7. Check your blood sugar regularly.
Monitor your blood sugar levels based on your doctor’s recommendation. Record your numbers, or use a glucose meter. This helps you track how well you’re managing your diabetes.
8. See your eye care professional often and consistently.
The American Diabetes Association recommends a visit at least once a year for a dilated eye exam and checking of the blood vessels in your eyes to spot early signs of damage: “Only optometrists and ophthalmologists can detect the signs of retinopathy. Only ophthalmologists can treat retinopathy.”
Remember: Sometimes serious eye problems do not show symptoms until the condition is very advanced. Your best hope for successful treatment is with an early diagnosis. At Sealy Eye Center, our eye care specialists use the latest technology to diagnose and manage the eye conditions associated with diabetes.
Eye exams are critical to maintaining vision, especially in individuals with diabetes. Please call Sealy Eye Center at (888) 701-7487 and schedule your exam today.