Did you know that over 30 million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with diabetes? There is also a large portion of the population that doesn’t know that they have diabetes or prediabetes. As the number rises in our country, spreading awareness about diabetes is vital to the prevention and management of this disease. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and we would like to take time this month to educate our community on the effect diabetes can have on your vision and ways to lower your risk for developing diabetic-related eye conditions.
People who unknowingly have prediabetes or diabetes may miss early symptoms for certain eye conditions. Some conditions may not show signs until they are too severe to ignore, though common warning signs may include:
- Blurred vision
- Dark spots
- Flashes of light
- Poor night vision
- Seeing floaters
If left untreated or if uncontrolled, diabetes, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure can affect the lenses of your eyes causing them to swell and further impact your vision which can lead to blindness. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause damage to your eyes and lead to the following eye conditions.
Blurred vision is a common sign that diabetes is not under control. High blood sugar levels can cause the lenses in your eyes to swell resulting in blurred vision. Diabetic patients should not purchase new glasses or contacts without an eye examination to ensure swelling is not the cause of the changes in their vision. It is important to have your blood sugar in a normal range for at least two months so that the swelling can dissipate, and an accurate prescription can be given.
When your vision becomes cloudy or you experience difficulty focusing, it may be signs of a cataract. With cataracts, the lens of your eye is clouded by debris altering your vision. This is a common condition that can occur in people without diabetes as well. However, patients with uncontrolled diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cataracts earlier and progressing faster. Surgery is often the recommended treatment option for cataracts.
With glaucoma, pressure builds up within your eye and doesn’t drain damaging nerves and blood vessels resulting in vision changes. There are many different forms of glaucoma, with open-angle glaucoma being the most common. Symptoms may not always be present but can include headaches, blurred vision, watery eyes, halos, and potential vision loss. Treatment options include medication, medicated eye drops, laser eye, and surgical treatments.
Steps to lower your risk
Though diabetes can increase your risk for various health conditions (including your vision), there are many steps you can take to lower your risk, preserve your vision, and prevent or control these conditions. Here are some steps you can take:
1. Routine examinations Once or twice a year, it is highly recommended that you visit your eye doctor for a detailed check-up. Diabetic eye diseases in their early stages usually don’t have any symptoms, but comprehensive and dilated eye exams can help your doctor monitor your condition and detect symptoms early. This is important so that you can begin treatment as soon as possible if signs do appear.
2. Control your blood sugar High blood sugar can affect the shape of your eye’s lens, causing blurred vision until your levels normalize. Routinely check your blood sugar levels and take appropriate measures to manage them as necessary.
3. Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol High blood pressure and cholesterol can also put you at risk for eye disease and vision loss. Keep a blood pressure monitor nearby and check your blood pressure every day. Keep your diet healthy so your cholesterol levels remain under control. Managing both will protect and preserve your vision while also benefiting your overall health.
4. Stop using tobacco If you smoke, your risk for diabetic retinopathy and other diabetic-related eye diseases can significantly increase. Quit smoking and using tobacco products to better your health and reduce your risk.
5. Exercise regularly At the end of the day, your physical fitness level affects your health, including your vision health. It keeps the blood rushing in veins and increases the concentration of more capillaries for blood supply around the area. It’s not only good for the eyes but also your overall health and it helps you manage your weight which is helpful for a diabetic patient.
For more information on how diabetes can affect your vision and how we can help or to schedule an appointment, please contact St. Lucy’s Vision Center.