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Diabetes Knowledge

Diabetes and eye problems – what you should know

4/9/2019 by Scott Johnson

Diabetes and eye problems – what you should know

You probably already know that eye health is important when living with diabetes. I’m happy to report that after living with diabetes for about 40 years, my eyes are in great shape.

There’s a lot involved in that. Managing my blood sugars as best I can, genetics, luck, and having regular diabetic eye exams to check for problems. There is a large scary term floating around that groups all possible diabetic related complications into one bundle called diabetic eye disease. It’s simply a grouping of eye conditions that can affect people with diabetes. Notice I didn’t specify type 1, type 2, gestational, or LADA, etc. ANYONE with ANY FORM of diabetes can be at risk for vision complications that include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and even glaucoma. While I am not a huge fan of the scary vernacular, the important thing is that most conditions can be prevented and some even reversed with a few simple but powerful steps. I’ve grouped them below into two major categories for you.

What you can do on your own

Let’s start with the one everyone talks about first. Tame the Monster. Keeping your A1C’s within a healthy range, preferably under 7, goes FAR in keeping your peepers happy. Although having diabetes does place us in a slightly higher risk category for vision problems, this area is one we can do a lot about, so really shoot for the stars here. Eating right is essential, and a little exercise is even better. Speaking of exercise and eye health, I had a wonderful experience one year at Friends for Life with Dr. Ben Szirth. He is not only an amazing ophthalmologist but also the director of applied vision research at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. For more than a decade, he's volunteered his time to provide FREE eye screenings to hundreds of children and adults at the Friends for Life conference in Florida every year. I routinely place myself in his hands for an eye exam, and one year, just by looking at the back surface of my eyes (!!), he could see that I exercise a lot. WOW! Talk about encouragement to keep exercising! I felt SO proud of myself and my motivation went through the roof! I will never forget that moment. Here’s a fun anatomy nugget for the brainy-types to geek out on. Those teeny blood vessels in your eye are a mix of BOTH arterial input and venous output. There is an ophthalmic artery that supplies freshly oxygenated blood directly from your internal carotid and branches into the retinal artery. YAY ANATOMY! But did you also know that if your blood glucose is too high, too frequently, it can lead to a hardening of those tiny fragile arteries and eventually could lead to diabetic retinopathy? Thus, maintaining a solid grasp on your blood sugar levels is your frontline defense in making sure your eyes stay healthy over the long term! Also, protect your eyes by always wearing quality sunglasses. Those of us with diabetes can develop cataracts earlier than people without diabetes, and good sunglasses can slow that down.

What you can do with your medical squad

I am also a big advocate of partnering with your medical team to help ensure optimal diabetic health. That is never more clutch than when talking about your vision. We know you already see your endocrinologist on the regular, RIGHT? Getting annual physicals including a check for blood pressure and cholesterol can go far in keeping your eyes healthy, too. And we know that diabetes can increase your risk for high blood pressure, so keeping that in check will go far in protecting your vision as well as overall good health. And GET YOUR EYES CHECKED! Most people assume that if they don’t have blurry vision, they don’t need a regular eye-exam – but that’s simply not the case. The sneaky thing about most diabetes-related eye problems is that you can’t notice anything different with your vision at first. Annual comprehensive eye exams, sometimes called an annual diabetic eye exam, WITH DILATION, not only give you a solid baseline for comparison but also provide EARLY DETECTION before you even notice symptoms. The early stages of retinopathy are just balloon-like swelling in the tiny blood vessels of the eye. You might not notice vision changes yet and the damage can possibly be REVERSED if treated EARLY! Likewise, early onset DME (diabetic macular edema) can also be unnoticed as the fluid begins to build up in the retina. Early detection and intervention can mean a world of difference in reversing symptoms, slowing progression, and maintaining optimal eye health.

In summary

If you happen to notice wavy or blurred vision, color changes, flashes of light, floating spots, or issues with night vision, contact your provider, stat. They can do a comprehensive exam, compare it to your baseline, and help you put solid steps in place to get your vision back on track. And if find yourself at a Friends for Life conference, treat yourself to an exam with Dr. Ben and his team. He’s one of the best in the world and is also one of us.

The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.
Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Scott Johnson

Almost famous for being a Diet Coke fanatic, Scott is the Patient Success Manager, US for mySugr and has lived well with diabetes for over 40 years. He's an active pioneer in the diabetes social media space and along with his work at mySugr, he manages his award-winning blog, when time allows.