Diabetic Eye Health: 5 Ways to Protect Your Eyesight

Did you know that both type 1 and 2 diabetes can damage your eyes and cause vision loss? That’s right, the primary cause of blindness in adults ages 20-74 is diabetes.1 In fact, damage can be occurring for years without symptoms. This makes an optometrist an essential part of your healthcare team.

Diabetes patients are not only at risk for diabetic retinopathy, but they are at higher risk to develop cataracts earlier and glaucoma. In fact, early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%.1 It’s estimated that 50% of individuals with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy at some point and everyone with diabetes is at risk for this eye disease.

5 Ways to Avoid Diabetic Eye Disease

  1. Attending Annual Comprehensive Diabetic Eye Exams – This eye exam takes about 30 minutes and is similar to a standard comprehensive eye exam. Your eye doctor will dilate your eyes and focus on the health of your retina and the blood vessels in each eye. Only an eye doctor can perform these exams and they may advise you to increase or decrease your exam frequency depending on how well your blood sugar is being controlled. The eye doctor will report their findings to your primary care doctor.
  2. Controlling Blood Sugar – High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the back of your eyes over time and the damage can begin as early as pre-diabetes. Keep your blood sugar under control to lower your risk of eye health related issues.
  3. Controlling Blood Pressure – High blood pressure impacts two-thirds of diabetes patients and increases your risk of retinopathy along with stroke and heart attack. Work with your primary care doctor to manage your blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetic eye diseases.
  4. Controlling Cholesterol – Diabetes can impact cholesterol levels by reducing “good” cholesterol and increasing “bad” cholesterol, which increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Managing cholesterol levels is important for overall health and eye health.
  5. Don’t Smoke – The sobering truth is that smoking increases everyone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.3 For individuals who use insulin, smoking can reduce the effectiveness of insulin requiring more to manage blood sugar and increasing the risk of diabetic eye conditions.4 Free help to quit, call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit gov/tips. Spanish-speakers can call 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569) or visit CDC.gov/consejos.

Common Diabetic Eye Diseases

  • Diabetic Retinopathy is when there is damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye. This damage can cause blur or distortion in your vision, increase in floaters and permanent vision loss if severe.
  • Diabetic Macular Edema is swelling in the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for your central vision.
  • Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve and can cause peripheral vision loss before noticeable symptoms occur.
  • Cataracts are changes in color or clarity of the lens inside your eye that can cause blurry, cloudy or decreased vision.

Call your optometrist immediately if you have diabetes and experience any of these symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Black spots
  • More floaters than usual
  • Feeling like a curtain is pulled over your visual field
  • Flashes of light
  • Any loss of sight in one or both eyes

1 https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-eye-problems
2 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-eye-disease
3 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/diabetes.html
4 https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-effects-tobacco-use/cigarette-smoking-risk-factor-type-2-diabetes

Eye fact

Infants should have their first
comprehensive eye exam at 6-12 months of age, then at age 3 & 5 and after every year.

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