Treating Diabetic Eye Disease With Lifestyle Changes
Today, with realities such as our ageing global population, urbanisation, exponential obesity rates, and an emphasis on sedentary lifestyles, more and more cases of diabetes is inevitable.1 With this upsurge of diabetes, comes a loss of vision caused by damage to capillaries in the retina at the back of the eye. This is due to excess glucose in the blood in patients with poorly controlled diabetes.
If you’ve had a recent diagnosis, or feel you are a likely candidate for developing diabetic retinopathy, you should consult with your eye specialist about the best management and prevention strategies for a clear, healthy vision for the future. Your ophthalmologist will provide you with some appropriate vision care guidelines to follow; and it’s of the utmost importance you do so.
If you’re unclear about your eye health and how diabetes can affect your vision, here’s a helpful guide to living with and understanding diabetic retinopathy.
So how does diabetic retinopathy affect your eyesight?
“Often within a diseased diabetic eye, blood and oxygen will struggle to reach those blood vessels.”
The retina is made up of a vast collection of tiny nerves that allow you to perceive colour and light in your surrounding environment; and in a normal, healthy eye these nerves are supplied by enough blood within the equally tiny blood vessels within.2 Often within a diseased diabetic eye, blood and oxygen will struggle to reach those blood vessels. This development inhibits the eye’s ability to do its job, causing damage to the retina and, in turn, loss of vision.
Anyone with diabetes is at risk of developing retinopathy
“...it’s important to monitor your progression and keep your disease in-check with some positive changes to your lifestyle.”
The longer the duration of diabetes — and the poorer the control of blood glucose (and other factors such as blood pressure) — the greater the risk of developing complications from the disease.3 People with poorly controlled diabetes (either Type 1 or Type 2) can develop diabetic retinopathy. The first stage of diabetic retinopathy is called non-proliferative — but as the disease process it enters the proliferative phase, requiring urgent treatment with an ophthalmologist. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy can severely damage visual function. Fortunately, this level of disease is far less common, particularly if glucose control is improved.
Not only does diabetes place enormous pressure on your body, but also on global public health systems; so it’s important to monitor your progression and keep your disease in-check with some positive changes to your lifestyle. If you feel there are some major risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, speak to your doctor about how you can thwart vision loss and other associated health problems.
You can gain control of your diabetes
“The healthy changes you make will be the bedrock of diabetic eye disease prevention and management…”
Lifestyle influences linked with tobacco use, a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet — particularly the overconsumption of highly processed foods — are closely associated with the rate of progression of diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy-related risk factors.4 Any loss of vision will require some serious adjustments to your routine; and diabetic retinopathy can throw a spanner in the works when it comes to managing your diabetes. The sooner your retinopathy is diagnosed, the more effective your management techniques and treatment will be at averting any vision loss.
There is a way forward!
Despite the challenges ahead, there are a number of self-management strategies you can implement to see beyond your visual problem. The healthy changes you make will be the bedrock of diabetic eye disease prevention and management; so ask your doctor for assistance throughout this transitional phase to ensure you’re on the right track.
Keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipid levels within your target range is one of the first steps you can take to prevent further vision loss — and regular visits to your healthcare provider, a healthy diet, exercising and taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor are all factors which can help you achieve your goals. Reaching out to your loved ones for support at this time can also help you overcome those hurdles. You can even ask family members or close friends to join you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle — that way you’ll have everyone’s best interests at heart.
If left untreated, the disease can progress
“So don’t wait for advanced-stage symptoms like blurred vision, eyestrain and headaches to appear before you pay a visit to your eye specialist…”
Don't wait until it's too late. Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disease, and can lead to blindness if left untreated. So don’t wait for advanced-stage symptoms like blurred vision, eyestrain and headaches to appear before you pay a visit to your eye specialist — having regular eye health checks is an important weapon against diabetic retinopathy, which often doesn’t present early warning signs.
Surgical options are available to prevent further vision loss
“But of course, gaining control of your health and maintaining your blood sugar levels is the most important step you can take…”
The main treatments available to reverse or prevent further loss of vision in patients with diabetic retinopathy include laser photocoagulation, intravitreal injections, and in some cases, vitrectomy. Studies have show long-term visual acuity results for such treatment strategies are remarkable, with 82% of patients retaining driving vision in at least one eye.5
But of course, gaining control of your health and maintaining your blood sugar levels is the most important step you can take to prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. Nonetheless, it cannot be stressed enough that regular eye exams are integral to disease management and prevention.
Look to the future of vision
But the outlook for patients at risk of, or those who already suffer from diabetic retinopathy, isn’t all as murky as it once was. With the advances in technology, laser and surgical expertise, education on the subject, as well as regular screening and prompt treatment, the visual loss from diabetes can be dramatically improved.
Eye & Laser Centre ophthalmologists specialise in the treatment of many eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy. Our centre employs the latest techniques and equipment to detect and manage this progressive disease.
This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific ophthalmic advice or assistance should consult their optometrist or ophthalmologist.
1. Zheng, Y., He, M. and Congdon, N., 2012. The worldwide epidemic of diabetic retinopathy. Indian journal of ophthalmology, 60(5), p. 428.
2. Gregg, J.A., Callaghan, G.M. and Hayes, S.C., 2007. The diabetes lifestyle book: Facing your fears and making changes for a long and healthy life. New Harbinger Publications.
3. Yau, J.W., Rogers, S.L., Kawasaki, R., Lamoureux, E.L., Kowalski, J.W., Bek, T., Chen, S.J., Dekker, J.M., Fletcher, A., Grauslund, J. and Haffner, S., 2012. Global prevalence and major risk factors of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes care, 35(3), pp. 556-564.
4. Cundiff, D.K. and Nigg, C.R., 2005. Diet and diabetic retinopathy: insights from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT). Medscape General Medicine, 7(1), p. 3.
5. Chew, E.Y., Ferris, F.L., Csaky, K.G., Murphy, R.P., Agrón, E., Thompson, D.J., Reed, G.F. and Schachat, A.P., 2003. The long-term effects of laser photocoagulation treatment in patients with diabetic retinopathy: the early treatment diabetic retinopathy follow-up study. Ophthalmology, 110(9), pp. 1683-1689.