Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the United States. About 8.3 percent of Americans have diabetes, which totals 25.8 million adults and children. As the obesity rate increases, the number of new cases of diabetes is also increasing. What is even more frightening is that 7 million Americans have undiagnosed diabetes and are not monitoring their blood sugar.
Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Diabetes can cause a multitude of health problems, and having diabetes puts you at risk for other diseases as well. Along with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, kidney disease and nervous system damage, diabetes increases your risk for eye diseases and even blindness.
High blood sugar causes the lens of the eye to swell, which changes your ability to see. Blurred vision can be a symptom of serious eye problems, and it is imperative to have blood sugar levels checked regularly. Blood sugar needs to be maintained in a target range of 70 to 130 milligrams per deciliter before meals and less than 180 milligrams per deciliter one to two hours after meals. It may take up to three months after your blood sugar has been regulated for your vision to return to normal.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Having diabetes can put your vision at risk. Three common diseases that can develop from untreated diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Cataracts—Although anyone can get a cataract, diabetics get cataracts at an earlier age. A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye, which makes the lens unable to focus. People with diabetes experience a quicker deterioration of the lens. Cataracts can be removed with surgery and the old lens can be replaced with a clear lens.
Glaucoma—Glaucoma is caused by an increase in the intraocular pressure, or the pressure on the inside of the eye. Increased pressure can damage the optic nerve which can cause permanent vision loss. People with diabetes can get uncommon types of glaucoma called neovascular glaucoma. In this form of glaucoma, new blood vessels grow into the iris of the eye and block the normal flow of aqueous which raises intraocular pressure.
Diabetic retinopathy—This is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is characterized by the leaking of blood vessels in the retina. Diabetes can cause blood vessels to swell and leak fluid. Sometimes, new blood vessels can grow on the surface of the retina.
Control and Prevention
If you have diabetes, you are not doomed to develop diabetic eye disease. Although you are at risk, you have the ability to control your diabetes so your vision is not compromised. Controlling diabetes requires you to be active and involved in monitoring your blood sugar. There are some other specific things that you can do to preserve your vision:
- Visit your doctor regularly—Schedule regular doctor visits for blood sugar monitoring. Listen to your doctors’ recommendations and follow them. Answer questions honestly. Your doctor will be limited in helping you if you are not completely honest and open about daily choices that you make that affect your diabetes.
- Control your diet—Eating right is essential when trying to prevent or control diabetes. You need to eat a diet that is high in nutrients, low in fat and moderate in calories. A high-fiber diet with low glycemic index foods (slow-release carbohydrates) will keep blood sugar steady and make you feel full. Although you do not need to eliminate sugar completely, you must limit sugar to a small serving. The good news is that as you cut sweets, your cravings will change and you will naturally desire more healthy foods.
- Exercise regularly—Exercise can help you control your blood sugar, increase fitness and reduce your risk for heart disease and nerve damage. You must track your blood sugar before, during and after exercise to prevent hypoglycemia.
- Have regular comprehensive eye exams—Your eye doctor will test for diabetic eye diseases during your examinations. If you are prediabetic or diabetic, it is even more important to have regular follow-up visits to monitor your vision.