Living with diabetes series
Vision, Eye Care, and Diabetes
Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataract, and eye care tips
When you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, vision and eye care are important aspects of your regular health checks. High blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in a condition called diabetic retinopathy.
High levels of blood glucose can also cause cataracts and glaucoma. This makes it mandatory to go for a full eye exam at least once a year so that any vision problems can be detected in the early stages and treated before it becomes worse.
Diabetic retinopathy is a result of damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye. This is common and may not pose a threat to your eyesight. But long-term high blood sugar can cause proliferative diabetic retinopathy which means that new blood vessels start to grow on the retina, scarring it and causing vision loss.
Another problem is macular edema which causes blurred vision when fluid leaks into the part of the retina that helps you read, drive and recognize fine details.
Both retinopathy and macular edema can be prevented by controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Diabetes and cataract
Cataracts cloud the eye’s lens causing blurred vision. When it is severe, surgery helps to improve vision.
Diabetes and glaucoma
Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that increases the pressure in the eyes. Diabetics are at double the risk of developing glaucoma. This damages the retina and optic nerve. Often there are no symptoms until there’s vision loss. Glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops to bring down the pressure. When serious, laser treatment or surgery may be required.
Can eye problems be prevented in diabetics?
Yes. Here are some eye care tips to protect your eyesight.
Good blood sugar control
It always boils down to this. Keeping your blood sugar under control helps prevent various problems and eye problems, in particular, preventing damage to the tiny blood vessels in the eyes.
Managing blood glucose also helps to delay any diabetes-related eye problems. My doctor advises the A1c test at least thrice a year to check the average blood sugar for the three months before the test so that treatment can be adjusted to help keep blood sugar under control.
Aim to keep your A1c levels under 7%
Good blood pressure control
When blood pressure is under control, it helps delay or avoid eye disease caused by diabetes. Get your blood pressure checked regularly.
Usually, a low-salt diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercise should help. If this is not enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to control blood pressure. A good goal is 140/80.
Good cholesterol control
Controlling your cholesterol levels helps maintain heart health as well as eye health in diabetes. Cholesterol in the arteries can prevent blood flow to various parts of the body, including the eyes. This can affect the nutrition and oxygen your eyes need.
Control your lipids along with your blood sugar levels to prevent the progress of eye problems.
Annual eye exams
A full eye exam once a year where your doctor dilates your eyes with special eye drops can identify any damage to the blood vessels in the eye. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, this is even more important.
Being alert to unusual signs
Watch out for anything unusual with your eyesight so that you can talk to your doctor about treatment right away. If you notice your vision is suddenly blurry, cloudy, or find that you are experiencing double vision, tell your doctor. Other signs to look for are:
- Floating spots in your vision
- Pain, pressure, or red eyes
- Difficulty seeing straight lines
- Problems with seeing out of the corner of your eye
- Any other changes
Give up the smoking habit
Consider giving up smoking. Besides leading to a number of other health problems, smoking damages vision and increases your risk for eye problems, especially if you are diabetic.
Protect your eyes from the sun
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays and UV radiation to prevent cataracts when you step outside.
Step away from the computer screen
Take a break from looking at your computer screen every 15 minutes. Some people feel the effect of Computer Vision Syndrome, a bundle of eye problems related to computer use. CVS can result in blurred vision, double vision, dry eyes, strain, fatigue, and headaches. If you suffer from dry eye, ask your doctor for eye drops.
Get enough antioxidants in your diet
A diet rich in antioxidants can protect your eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts.
Here is a quick list of resources:
- Vitamin A: carrots, boiled spinach, turnip greens, kale, parsley, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, asparagus, green beans, apricots, broccoli
- Vitamin C: broccoli, bell peppers, kale, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, papaya, chard, cabbage, spinach, kiwi, snow peas, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, limes, tomatoes, zucchini, pineapples
- Vitamin E: mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, olives, tomato, blueberries, broccoli
- Zinc: beef, lamb, summer squash, asparagus, venison, chard, collard greens, shrimp, broccoli, peas, yogurt, pumpkin seeds
- Beta carotene: sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, garden peas, Brussel sprouts
- Omega-3 fats: salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, scallops, cauliflower, cabbage, halibut, shrimp, cod, tuna, soybeans, tofu
The good news is, as long as you manage your diabetes, you can prevent eye problems and enjoy healthy vision. Take care to follow a diabetes-friendly diet, exercise, and medication.
In a majority of people diagnosed with diabetes, the main problem is the lack of diabetes education. The Living with Type-2 Diabetes series will cover various aspects of the condition with tips and suggestions to manage it better.
In this series so far:
The ABCs of Diabetes
Blood Pressure and Living with Diabetes
Does Dessert Have a Place in the Diabetes Diet
The Cholesterol-Diabetes Connection
The Diabetes Diet and Living with Type 2 Diabetes
Let’s Bust 10 Diabetes Diet Myths!
Why is Exercise Important in Diabetes?
Why Footcare Plays A Crucial Role in Managing Diabetes
What is the Glycemic Index?
Diabetic Neuropathy — What You Should Know
Oral Health and Diabetes
Why It Is Important To Understand Ketones In Diabetes
Disclaimer: The information in this post is purely for educational purposes only and does not substitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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