Did you know that of the 88 million people with diabetes in Southeast Asia, 77 million live in India? On an average nine out of every 100 Indians is diabetic. Besides causing elevated blood sugar levels, kidney and heart problems, diabetes causes a number of eye problems that range from diabetic retinopathy and macular edema to cataracts and glaucoma. In fact, over time, diabetes can even cause blindness. But you can take steps to prevent diabetic eye disease, or keep it from getting worse.
The obvious solution of course is to keep your blood sugar levels in check and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you’re a smoker, quit! And don’t forget to get an annual dilated eye exam to rule out any lurking problems. The last is important because often there aren’t any warning signs of diabetic eye disease or vision loss when damage first starts.
So, How Does Diabetes Affect Your Eyes?
When your blood sugar levels are high, it can cause an increase in fluid levels in the tissues of your eyes, causing blurred vision. This can abate once your glucose levels normalize. However, if your blood glucose stays high over time, it can damage the tiny blood vessels in the back of your eyes. This damage starts when you are pre-diabetic, when blood glucose is higher than normal, but not high enough for you to be considered a diabetic. Damaged blood vessels can bleed into the middle portion of your eyes, leading to scarring, or high pressure inside your eyes.
The Four Commonest Diabetes Induced Eye Problems Are:
1 Diabetic Retinopathy
The retina is the inner lining at the back of each eye and senses light which is then sent as signals to your brain, allowing you to see the world around you. Damaged blood vessels weaken and leak into the retina, causing diabetic retinopathy. Over time some blood vessels close off, causing new blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina, causing serious vision problems.
2 Diabetic Macular Edema
The part of your retina needed for reading, driving, and seeing faces is called the macula. Diabetes can lead to swelling in the macula, also called diabetic macular edema. The disease destroys sharp vision in this part of the eye, leading to partial vision loss or blindness.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is actually a bundle of nerves that connects the eye to the brain. Diabetes doubles your chances of getting glaucoma, which can lead to vision loss and blindness. A common symptom is the loss of side vision.
The lenses in your eyes are clear structures that help provide sharp vision. These tend to become cloudy as we age but diabetics are more likely to develop cloudy lenses or cataracts at a much earlier age because high glucose levels cause deposits to build up in the lenses of your eyes.
When Should You See A Doctor Right Away?
Any sudden changes to your vision, including flashes of light or floaters is a cause for alarm. If you wake up one morning and feel like everything looks darker or more faded than usual, immediately make an appointment to see an ophthalmologist because it could indicate a detached retina, which is a medical emergency.
How Do Doctors Treat Diabetic Eye Disease?
Your doctor may recommend having eye exams more often than once a year, along with diet and lifestyle changes to manage your blood sugar levels. This will include controlling the ABCs, which include your A1c blood levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. If you are a smoker, this is a good time to quit.
How Can You Protect Your Eyes?
To prevent diabetic eye disease, or keep it from getting worse, its important you take medication to manage your blood pressure, control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, exercise regularly and quit smoking.
Everything we eat directly impacts our blood sugar levels. However, no foods are strictly off-limits. Learning to eat mindfully, and in moderation is key. Ensure your diet consists of plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains besides lean protein like paneer, non-fat dairy, legumes and lean meat. Limit processed and refined high sugar and fat foods like biscuits, cakes, white bread and fried snacks. It’s also a good idea to go cold turkey with soft drinks and fruit juices that are laden with sugar. Remember carbs turn into sugar, so watch your carb intake and make sure no more than a quarter of your plate consists of carbohydrates. This is particularly important if you take insulin or drugs to control your blood sugars.
Getting in at least 30-40 minutes of exercise daily is important. You don’t have to join an expensive gym, just walking around the block and doing housework is enough…anything that keeps you on your feet. An active lifestyle will help bring down your blood sugar and lower your chances of getting heart disease. Plus, it will help you lose extra kilos.
If You Already Suffer From Diabetes-Related Vision Loss
You need to make sure that you go for regular eye check-ups that include an eye pressure exam. Specialists can help you manage vision loss that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery. You will be guided on ways to make the most of your remaining vision so that you can continue to enjoy hobbies, visit friends and live a productive life.