Diabetes And The Eye

Issue 46.15

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin effectively to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. It is the number one cause of blindness in the United States.  Although glucose is an important source of energy for the body’s cells, too much glucose in the blood for a long time can cause damage in many parts of the body, including the heart, kidneys, blood vessels and the small blood vessels in the eyes.  When the blood vessels in the eye’s retina (the light sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye) swell, leak or close off completely, or grow new abnormal blood vessels, it is called diabetic retinopathy.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 90 percent of diabetes-related vision loss can be prevented, but early detection is key.

Top Five Steps to Help Prevent Diabetic Eye Diseases:

If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing certain eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. The good news is that you can preserve your vision and reduce your chances of eye disease. Follow these steps now to make sure you preserve your vision in the years to come.

  1. Get a comprehensive dilated eye examination from your ophthalmologist at least once a year. A dilated eye exam allows your ophthalmologist to examine more thoroughly the retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and treat it before you notice any change to your vision.
  2. With both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, what you eat makes a difference. Go for a healthy mix of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, fish, lean meats, low-fat dairy and low fat. Explain to your family that easing them onto this new diet is not about them showing support for you (although it certainly is); it is about your wanting them to live long and happy lives. (I.e. a diabetic diet=a heart healthy diet=an eye healthy diet).  What you like to eat is largely what you get your palate used to.  Mark Twain said,“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time.”  Developing your new diet habit will take a little time, but not nearly as much as you think.
  3. Partner with your primary care doctor—poorly controlled blood glucose, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can put you at greater risk for eye disease and vision loss. Keeping all under control will not only help your eyes but your overall health.
  4. Control Stress—stress can make your blood sugar level soar. Make time for hobbies you enjoy, connect with friends and family, and say no to things that overload your schedule. If you reach for a cigarette when you’re stressed, make it a priority to quit. Smoking makes diabetes complications more likely. Those include foot problems, nerve damage, and eye, heart, and kidney disease.
  5. Exercise is good for your eyes. It’s also good for your diabetes. Exercise, or physical activity, includes anything that gets you moving, such as walking, dancing, or working in the yard. Regular physical activity is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with diabetes and those at risk for diabetes. That doesn’t mean you need to run a marathon or bench-press 300 pounds. The goal is to get active and stay active by doing things you enjoy, from gardening to playing tennis to walking with friends. There is no age limit. How much exercise should you do?  As long as you start slowly (Mark Twain said that “common sense, ain’t so common”), then the answer is as much as you can comfortably do.

Conclusion: Develop the habits of proper diet, and regular exercise.  Schedule regular visits with your primary care doctor (blood glucose medication monitoring, blood pressure and cholesterol control).  Control stress.  Make your yearly appointment with your eye doctor.  If you are wise your car gets routine preventative maintenance—perhaps it is time to make that same investment in your future.

Richens Eye Center is a multi-specialty vision care center with state of the art technology available to provide you with the best treatment plans available.

If you would like to schedule your annual eye exam or are a diabetic with questions about your eye health, please call 435.986.2020 or visit for more information.

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