November is National Diabetes Month in the U.S. – designated to spread awareness about diabetes and the measures that can be taken to prevent or manage the disease.
Diabetes refers to a set of diseases that affect the body’s ability to regulate its blood sugar levels effectively, whether because the body doesn’t produce enough – or any – insulin (type 1) or because it has become less sensitive to the insulin produced (type 2).
Type 2 diabetes is the most common, with around 90% of those suffering with diabetes having type 2 – this form of diabetes is influenced by a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and body weight.
Unchecked, type 2 diabetes can lead to health complications including strokes and heart attacks, largely as a result of the damage high blood sugar does to blood vessels. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness in those of working age, through several eye problems associated with the disease.
Here are the main four ways diabetes can affect your eye health:
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when fat deposits on the retina. This makes new blood vessels form to compensate for the restricted blood flow to the eyes and causes others to swell or even bleed out or ‘leak’.
This can result in damage to the macula – the part of your eye that allows you to see what’s directly in front of you – which can lead to blindness.
Diabetic macular edema.
As a result of leaking blood vessels, diabetes can cause the macula of the eye to swell, which makes vision blurry or warped.
Though this isn’t a cause of blindness on its own, macular edema can lead to more serious eye diseases that eventually cause a person to become blind.
As a result of increased blood vessel formation and/or the raised pressure in the eye caused by macular edema, diabetes can cause neovascular glaucoma.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending signals from the eye to the brain, allowing us to see. For this reason, glaucoma often causes partial or total blindness – unless it’s treated early.
Statistically, people who have diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts, and typically develop cataracts earlier.
High blood sugar levels contribute to cloudy areas formulating in the lens of the eye – a.k.a. cataracts – which is the leading cause of blindness globally.
What can you do to prevent sight loss from diabetes?
Though having diabetes puts you at greater risk of sustaining eye health problems, there are a number of things you can do to protect your eyesight even with the disease.
With this in mind, make sure to do these four things to protect your eyesight from the effects of diabetes:
- Go for regular eye exams to check for signs of eye issues, since eye diseases found early can often be treated
- Take vitamins to promote the health of your eyes
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable
- Work to reduce high blood pressure
This American Diabetes Month it’s important to remember that, although suffering with diabetes can impact your health – and particularly the health of your eyes – by taking steps to manage the disease, you can minimize its impact and prevent vision problems and blindness in the long run.