Diabetes is a complex and debilitating disease. Cases of diabetes (of different types) are rapidly increasing worldwide due to several health factors such as obesity and a lack of physical exercise. Today, about 422 million adults are living with diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to serious health and Vision complications. People with diabetes are more likely to have medical complications such as heart disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), and lower-limb amputations than those without diabetes.
Diabetes can also result in blindness and other eye problems. As the leading eye center in the UAE, we know the benefits of taking an active role in keeping your eyes healthy.
Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin or effectively use the insulin it makes. There are two major forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
A person with Type 1 diabetes is unable to produce insulin. Their immune system destroys the beta cells of the pancreas. Beta cells are responsible for making insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot properly manage glucose. This increases a person’s blood sugar levels, resulting in significant health problems.
On the other hand, a person with Type 2 diabetes is still able to produce insulin. The complication is that the body doesn’t make enough insulin or does not respond well to the insulin it produces. Because the effects of insulin are resisted by the body, normal glucose levels cannot be maintained.
In both cases, the excess sugar in the blood can result in diabetes. Of the two, Type 2 diabetes is the most common. It accounts for 90-95% of all cases of diabetes worldwide.
A third type of diabetes called gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy.
Causes of Diabetes
While we know Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, no one knows for certain why the body mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells. Certain causes such as genetics and environmental risk factors are believed to contribute to the development of Type 1 diabetes in the body.
The causes of Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, are well documented. People with a family history of Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop the same disease. Certain ethnicities are also more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes.
Age also plays a role in the likelihood of someone developing Type 2 diabetes. People over the age of 45 have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, though reports of people developing Type 2 diabetes at a much younger age are dramatically increasing.
Other risk factors that increase a person’s chance of developing Type 2 diabetes include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood triglyceride (fat) levels
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Gestational diabetes
- High-fat and carbohydrate diet
- High alcohol intake
Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is potentially preventable. Managing the risk factors above and making better lifestyle choices can prevent health complications associated with the disease.
Diabetes and Eye Health
Diabetes attacks the body and its immune system methodically. Symptoms develop slowly, making it easy for people to ignore how the disease is affecting many major organs. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to long-term complications.
Diabetic retinopathy is a form of eye damage resulting from improper management of diabetes. High sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retina. This damage decreases the circulation of the blood vessels. The restricted flow of blood deprives areas of the retina of oxygen and nutrition.
Every person with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy develops slowly over time. Each person’s outlook with this eye disease will depend greatly on how they manage their diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
When diabetic retinopathy advances, it can cause changes such as the growth of new blood vessels. These newly formed blood vessels are fragile, less stable and are more susceptible to swelling and breaking. When they break, they hemorrhage and bleed into the retina or the vitreous gel of the eye.
If you suspect you have diabetic retinopathy, symptoms to look out for are:
- Blurry vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Occasional double vision
- Floaters, dots, or dark strings in your field of vision
- Seeing dark spots or patches
- Sensitivity to light
- Poor night vision
- Altered color vision
- Partial vision loss
Prolonged mismanagement of diabetic retinopathy can cause scar tissue to form on the retina surface. This scar tissue can pull the retina out of position. This tractional detachment, more commonly known as retinal detachment, can — if untreated — result in permanent blindness.
Even though there is a surgical option called vitrectomy which will improve vision in the event of retinal detachment, your vision may not completely return to normal after the surgery (it may not be completely restored).
Vision improvement is dependent on the underlying health of the retina.
Other serious problems that can develop as a result of poor management of diabetes include early onset cataracts, glaucoma, and decreased corneal sensitivity.
While no cure has been developed yet for this eye disease, there are measures you can take to ward off retinopathy.
The five tips below will help you take charge of your disease, help prevent diabetic retinopathy, and keep your vision sharp.
1. Control your blood sugar levels
High blood sugar levels increase your chance of developing severe eye problems. Maintaining tight control of your diabetes will slow down any damage caused by retinopathy. This will require working with your healthcare team to monitor and manage your diabetes.
You can also set and reach goals by following the “ABCs” of diabetes management:
- A1C. The A1C Test is a blood test that observes your average blood glucose levels over the past three months. The result of the A1C test is reported as a percentage. Aim to keep your A1C test results below 7%.
- Blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure lower than 140/90 mmHg will help decrease the risk of developing heart and kidney disease.
- Cholesterol. Avoid LDL or “bad” cholesterol. This type of cholesterol can clog your blood vessels and put your heart at risk. Your doctor will have specific goals for your cholesterol numbers.
2. Eat well
Healthy eating can help you better manage your diabetes and your overall risk for retinopathy complications. Improving your diet can also reduce the risk of other diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancers.
Certain nutrient-rich foods have been shown to ward off vision-related problems.
- Oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.)
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, microgreens, etc.)
- Nuts and legumes (walnuts, lentils, cashews, etc.)
- Seeds (chia, flax, hemp, etc.)
- Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, pomelos, etc.)
- Root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.)
- Lean meat and poultry
A well-balanced diet is important for diabetes management. Speak with a registered dietician who can create a meal plan for you that will help you achieve your goals.
3. Get physically active
Being overweight or obese can make your body less sensitive to insulin. When this occurs, insulin resistance increases. The more your body becomes resistant to insulin, the more it will try to produce, increasing blood glucose levels.
Maintaining a healthy weight can be done by following a nutrient-rich diet and being more active.
Engaging in physical activities with moderate intensity 150 minutes per week helps control blood sugar levels and greatly reduces the risk of developing retinopathy, nerve damage, and other diabetes-related diseases.
4. Give your eyes a break
Digital screens like computers, televisions, and smartphones are unavoidable in today’s society.
If you spend a good deal of time staring at screens, eye fatigue can set in. Follow the 20-20-20 rule when it comes to preventing eye strain. This means, every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
It’s also important to protect your eyes when you’re outside. Wear sunglasses during the daylight hours to shield your eyes from the sun’s UV rays. Be sure to buy sunglasses that protect against both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
5. Get regular eye exams
Because diabetic retinopathy often goes unnoticed, it’s important to get your eyes checked regularly, at least once a year. Visiting an ophthalmologist or optometrist will ensure that retinopathy and other diabetic-related vision problems are detected in their early stages.
Talk to your eye care professional about getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
The process will involve placing drops into your eyes to widen or dilate the pupils. Your doctor will then use a special magnifying instrument to examine for blood vessel changes, any changes in the lens of each eye, and any damage to the nerves of your eyes.
This exam will cause blurry vision for several hours as well as enlarged vision. So bring sunglasses to your appointment and have someone drive you to and from your eye exam.
Better Care for Your Eyes
When it comes to diabetes and your eye health, early detection, healthy lifestyle choices, careful control of blood sugar levels, and appropriate follow-up care will ensure any diabetes-related vision problems are detected early and treated before they become a serious problem.
The eye care professionals at Gulf Eye Center understand how important vision is to your everyday life.
Contact us now to meet with one of our eye care specialists and schedule your appointment.