Diabetes can cause serious complications to one’s health. While you may be asked to take special care of your feet, skin or teeth, something you may not anticipate is the havoc it wreaks on your eyes. More than three million Canadians have diabetes and it is the leading cause of blindness for people under 65 years of age. High blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels including the tiny ones in the eye which leads to a serious condition called diabetic retinopathy.  

According to statistics, around 40-50% of diabetic patients suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which means that the high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels responsible for providing oxygen and nutrients to the retina. Retina senses the light as it enters the eye and is responsible for good vision. When it loses supply, it causes swelling in the retina and a decrease in vision.

 

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In the early stages of this condition called non-proliferative retinopathy, the weak blood vessels can cause bleeding in the eye. In later stages, the patients may start noticing symptoms such as black spots, flashing lights or blurred vision that can escalate to blindness. If you have high blood pressure, you’re more prone to getting diabetic retinopathy.

There are a number of other eye conditions that can be common in people who have diabetes including cataracts and glaucoma. It is possible that some diabetic patients who have type 2 diabetes also suffer from retinopathy at the time of diagnosis due to undiagnosed high blood sugars for many years.

If you suffer from any of these diabetes related eye complications, surgery can be an option. However, to avoid reaching this stage, it’s better to detect the condition as early as possible.

 

Make sure that you follow an eye-care routine such as follows:

  • Visit your eye doctor: People diagnosed with diabetes should have frequent eye checkups as symptoms may be realised too late. It is advised that people with type 1 diabetes (where insulin is not produced) should take an eye exam every year. People with type 2 diabetes should get an eye check up done every 1-2 years and pregnant women with diabetes should have regular eye check ups as they are at risk.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels: Healthcare professionals suggest that monitoring and keeping the blood sugar levels under control can actually slow down the damage to the eyes.
  • Keep your heart healthy: Having high blood pressure or cholesterol levels can also increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Take a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly and take prescribed medication to keep your blood pressure in check.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking causes more damaged blood vessels that when mixed with diabetes can worsen the condition for the retina and cause vision loss.
  • Get treatment: As soon as you notice any changes to your eyesight, visit an eye specialist and get it treated. If the retina is left untreated, it can cause new blood vessels to grow and cause more damage to your vision.

Almost all people living with high blood sugar levels for 20 years show signs of diabetic retinopathy. It is important to prevent any damage to the eyes with these tips. However, don’t let the complication get the better of you. You can get treatments to slow down the damage.

Go for laser surgery to cure the leaking blood vessels in the eye and prevent new ones from forming. Another treatment to stop excessive bleeding is called Vitrectomy, where a salt solution is used to replace the cloudy eye fluid in order to improve the sight.

 

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When you are diagnosed with retinopathy or other eye related problems that affect the vision, get access to devices that can help you with your daily activities including diabetes care.

Don’t let complications get in the way of managing your condition. Remember, diabetes is a lifelong illness that will require a lot of mental and emotional strength and getting help from your personal support group can go a long way.

 

If you face low vision:

1. Get a blood sugar testing kit which has a large result display.

2. Label your medications with large and bold prints.

3. If you’re keeping a manual record of your blood sugar readings, use felt-tip pens or bold markers.

4. You can also use blood glucose monitors with features like a storage memory that allows you to view and print your results on the computer in large fonts.

5. Be careful with insulin injections. Ask for help or use visual aids to help you insert the needle into the syringe correctly.

 

Living with diabetes is not easy but educating yourself about all the associated complications and committing yourself to fighting them can help you lead a healthier and happier life.

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