Digestive ProblemsAccording to the American Diabetes Association, over 11% of the US population has diabetes. Diabetes is a complex condition that affects a person's blood sugar levels, which in turn can cause a variety of health issues throughout the body, including issues with the eyes.

As a result, proper diabetic eye care is crucial for maintaining good vision and preventing eye diseases from causing irreversible damage. In this blog post, we'll discuss five essential tips that can help safeguard the vision of those living with diabetes, empowering them to tackle diabetes-related eye diseases head-on and preserve their eye health for years to come.

1. Maintain Optimal Blood Sugar Control

As anyone with diabetes knows, managing your blood glucose levels is key to managing the condition. Having high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, for long periods of time can cause damage to small blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the eyes. This can lead to diabetic retinopathy, a serious condition that causes vision loss.

As the name suggests, diabetic retinopathy affects the retina, or the part of the eye responsible for converting light into signals that the brain interprets as sight. The disease occurs when the small, delicate blood vessels in the retina become damaged, leading to fluid leakage that can obscure vision or the growth of abnormal, new blood vessels on the retina.

A person with this diabetic eye disease might experience blurry vision, eye floaters, or even vision loss. To reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy, it's important to keep your blood sugar normal and avoid fluctuations, as well as follow any diabetic care plan that's been recommended by your doctor.

2. Monitor and Manage Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

People who have diabetes are also more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These conditions are all closely related due to their effects on blood vessels—high cholesterol and high blood pressure can cause them to become narrowed, decreasing the amount of oxygen that reaches tissues such as those in the eyes. As a result, they can contribute to vision loss and the development of diabetic eye diseases.

In particular, chronic high blood pressure, also called hypertension, is known to raise a person's risk of developing cataracts at a younger age. Cataracts are a normal part of the aging process—they occur as the proteins in the eye's lens break down over time, causing the eye to appear cloudy or hazy. But when a person has hypertension, cataracts can develop faster and at a younger age than they typically would.

Additionally, high cholesterol may play a role in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). One 2021 study found that early middle-aged people who had chronically high cholesterol levels were more likely to have AMD, and a 2022 study found that people with diabetes who took medication for their cholesterol levels were less likely to have AMD.

If you have diabetes and you've also been diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it's important to keep these conditions in check with the help of your primary care provider. Whether that means taking special medications or making lifestyle changes, taking charge of your health in this way can help protect your vision from further damage.

3. Quit Smoking

Smoking is bad for everyone's health, but for people with diabetes, it can be especially dangerous. The toxic chemicals present in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, negatively impact eye health in several ways. This is largely due to the way these substances constrict blood vessels throughout the body, including the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Because diabetes already puts a person at risk for damage to these blood vessels, smoking can be particularly dangerous. This reduced blood circulation can contribute to the development of diabetic retinopathy, as well as dry eye syndrome and glaucoma.

Smoking also generates free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, in turn, can damage cells and tissues throughout the body including those in the eyes. As a result, people who smoke are at a higher risk of developing AMD and cataracts—both of which can result in vision loss.

4. Protect Your Overall Health

A great way to manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol is to take good care of your overall health. This means practicing healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Doing so can help you avoid health complications such as those mentioned above, which in turn can reduce your risk of vision loss due to diabetic eye disease.

In particular, eating a healthy diet high in nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your blood sugar in check. Eating foods like nuts, beans, and fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids may also help lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy. It's also a good idea to incorporate antioxidant-rich foods into your diet, like leafy greens and berries.

Additionally, getting enough exercise helps regulate your blood sugar by improving the way your body uses insulin, helping to lower blood sugar levels. Plus, exercise improves blood circulation throughout the body, including the eyes. This increased blood flow can help deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to the eye tissues, promoting optimal eye health.

5. Regular Comprehensive Eye Exams

Though your primary care provider may check your eyes during regular visits, it's still important to go visit your eye doctor for routine eye exams. After all, only an eye doctor has the specialized tools and training needed to properly assess the internal structures of the eye, like the retina and optic nerve. This allows your eye doctor will be able to diagnose any potential problems and plan treatment accordingly. Plus, many eye diseases don't present with any symptoms until the vision damage is already significant, meaning your eye doctor will likely detect these issues before you even know anything is wrong!

The team of board-certified eye specialists at Everett & Hurite is dedicated to helping patients maintain healthy eyes and vision. With comprehensive eye exams and cutting-edge treatments, we can help you protect your eyes and minimize your chances of losing your vision. We look forward to helping you!

Our Everett & Hurite team is dedicated to helping you maintain your eye health, providing the best possible vision care, and offering the most up-to-date treatments and technologies available. Schedule your next appointment online today; we look forward to seeing you soon!