Diabetics know they need to monitor blood sugar, but some don’t realize the importance of paying close attention to their eyesight. Being a diabetic comes with an increased risk of developing poor eyesight. Having high blood sugar for extended periods of time will weaken the blood vessels in the retina and can cause diabetic retinopathy.
The beginning stages of diabetic retinopathy are mild. However, it can eventually cause blindness. The longer high blood sugar goes unchecked, the higher the risk of developing this condition.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, described by the Mayo Clinic, include:
- Spots or dark strings floating in your field of vision (“floaters”)
- Blurred vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Impaired color vision
- Dark or empty areas in your vision
- Vision loss
If you’re a diabetic and experience any of these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor right away for an exam. It’s a good idea to get an exam done every year to keep an eye on the progression of symptoms. Eye experts from the Swagel Wootton Eye Institute say that regular eye exams – even when you’re not experiencing problems with your vision – play a major role in prevention. The slightest change might indicate a problem, and when caught early, can be treated.
In addition to high blood sugar, additional risk factors for retinopathy include high blood pressure, pregnancy, high cholesterol, and smoking cigarettes. Smoking constricts the blood vessels and creates pressure that can be harmful throughout the entire body, including the eyes.
How diabetic retinopathy progresses
In the beginning stages, new blood vessels may fail to grow. The walls of existing blood vessels weaken, and sometimes leak fluid into the retina. As more blood vessels become blocked, the symptoms can progress in severity and cause nerve fibers to swell.
When the condition advances to proliferative diabetic retinopathy, damaged blood vessels close off, and abnormal blood vessels grow inside the retina. This develops into neovascular glaucoma. The new, abnormal blood vessels leak more fluid, and scar tissue that forms in the process can cause the retina to detach and pressure can build in the eye. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, causing glaucoma.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation says diabetics are twice as likely to develop neovascular glaucoma as non-diabetics. There is no known cure for glaucoma, and it’s difficult to treat. Laser surgery can reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels, but some people opt for drainage implants.
How to mitigate the potential for developing retinopathy
Monitoring the progression of symptoms is the best way to mitigate the potential for developing diabetic retinopathy. The first place to start is to keep your blood sugar under control at all times. Exercise regularly, and eat a low-carb, low-sugar diet to the best of your ability. Test your blood sugar to make sure your efforts are working.
Another way to reduce your risk is to get a hemoglobin A1C test. This test will tell you what your average blood sugar level was for two or three months before the test. Most people should be under 7%.
Maintaining your blood pressure is a big one. If you’re prone to high blood pressure, avoid consuming caffeine since it will restrict blood flow. Avoid smoking cigarettes for the same reason. Multiple studies have shown that smokers with type 1 diabetes are at higher risk for diabetic neuropathy.
Your eyesight allows you to enjoy your world
Vision is perhaps the most important sense of all. The majority of input from the world is visual, and it would be extremely difficult to function without it. Some visually-impaired people do get used to living with limited or no sight, but it’s not the same.
Take good care of your eyesight as much as possible. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and leafy green vegetables. Take omega-3 fatty acid supplements like krill oil and get enough DHA into your system. Take vitamin A supplements if you’re deficient, and give your body enough exposure to sunlight to produce vitamin D3.
Take care of your eyes during the day by wearing blue light blocking glasses when using the computer. Limit the amount of time you spend staring at tiny screens, squinting and straining your eyes. Take frequent breaks from computer work, and when your eyes start to hurt, give your eye muscles a rest.
You may not be able to prevent all symptoms of vision loss, but you can mitigate the progression and severity of symptoms.