Did you know that your eyes house the most intricate blood vessels in your body? These vessels are responsible for nourishing the receptor cells in the retina, which transmit images to the brain through the optic nerve. Chronic diseases like diabetes can weaken blood vessels in the eyes and cause serious vision problems.
The most common cause of blindness among diabetics is a condition called diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative eye disease characterized by vessel leakage and retinal swelling. It is imperative that diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed in the early stages because, if left untreated, it can lead to blurred vision, retinal detachment or permanent vision loss.
The best way to preserve your vision and prevent diabetic retinopathy is through active prevention. Creating healthy habits today can prevent disease in the future. Because November is Diabetic Eye Disease Month, let’s discuss some habits and lifestyle changes you can make now, so you have clear vision for years to come:
- Keep your blood sugar levels in check. Blood sugar needs to be maintained in a target range of 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals and less than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after meals. If you are experiencing impaired vision as a result of diabetes, remember that it may take up to three months after your blood sugar has been stabilized for your vision to return to normal.
- Visit your primary care physician regularly. Even if you are monitoring your blood sugar at home, you should schedule regular appointments with your doctor to manage your diabetes. Your doctor will check your weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and circulation in your hands and feet. Ask your doctor how often you should schedule your appointments.
- Schedule routine comprehensive eye exams. Yearly eye exams are the best way to maintain eye health. Your ophthalmologist will be able to evaluate the health of your retinas and the vessels surrounding them, and he or she will share this information with you at the appointment. If your doctor finds evidence of diabetic retinopathy, he or she can begin your treatment immediately. If there is evidence that you are at risk for developing the disease, the doctor will likely provide guidance on lifestyle modifications.
- Make goals for healthy eating and exercise. A diet centered on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains provides vitamins and minerals that will nourish and strengthen the blood vessels in the eyes. Daily exercise is also important for maintaining your blood pressure and stabilizing your blood glucose levels. Talk to your doctor about creating an exercise and nutrition plan that is appropriate for your age and current activity level.
- Find an accountability partner. Have a spouse, friend or loved one help remind you and assist you in implementing your new habits. It takes teamwork to manage health conditions, so make it easier on yourself by asking for help.
Diabetic retinopathy does not have to accompany a diabetes diagnosis. It is never too late to start healthy habits, so create some goals today that will help prevent diabetic eye disease.