4 Tips for Diabetics to Avoid Eye Complications

4 Tips for Diabetics to Avoid Eye Complications

Over 12,000 people in the United States lose their vision to diabetic retinopathy each year, which is a frightening statistic if you have diabetes. The good news: it doesn't have to happen to you. Eye complications come at higher risk if you have diabetes, but you still have a measure of control. If you can control your blood glucose, blood pressure, lipid levels and quit smoking, you can get the upper hand against diabetes and be in a good position to maintain your eye health and your vision.

The statistics from the American Diabetes Association are frightening:

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness for American adults between the ages of 20 and 74
  • 12,000–24,000 people in the United States lose their vision to diabetic retinopathy each year

The good news: there are several prevention strategies you can embrace to minimize your risks of blindness due to diabetic retinopathy. Here are four of the most important:

1. Blood glucose control

If you have diabetes, managing high blood glucose is critical for many reasons, so this is anything but unfamiliar advice. Especially in the eyes, high blood glucose has two harmful effects:

  • Small blood vessels are damaged and become leaky when their ability to control blood volume is impaired
  • Glucose metabolites damage normal blood vessels in the retina, create new and abnormal blood vessels, and bind to proteins and cause them to function abnormally

Maintaining your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible mitigates the risks of eye damage associated with diabetes. The definitive Diabetes Complications and Control Trial demonstrated that for people with Type 1 diabetes, each 10% reduction in average blood glucose levels reduces the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy by roughly 60%.

2. Blood pressure control

High blood pressure creates turbulent blood flow in the retina and optic nerve, which serves to increase the risk of abnormal blood clotting. This has a damaging effect to eye heath and vision by itself, and also accelerates diabetic retinopathy.

The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study demonstrated that managing high blood pressure factors diminishes the risk of retinopathy or worsening of existing retinopathy even more than blood glucose control for Type 2 diabetics. The lesson is clear: control your blood pressure to enjoy maximum eye health.

3. Blood lipid control

Studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between diabetic retinopathy and abnormal blood lipid levels, particularly if those levels indicate high LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and triglycerides. A spectrum of additional eye-related conditions is more prevalent in diabetics with abnormal blood lipids, including ischemic optic neuropathy, retinal vascular occlusion, and cataracts.

Proper diet, exercise, and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can all help to manage lipid levels and reduce the risks of diabetic eye disease. Key lifestyle tips include reducing consumption of saturated and trans fats, increased intake of foods high in monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, and dietary fiber, as well as regular physical activity. That these also help manage blood glucose and blood pressure is just icing on the cake.

4. Quit smoking

Smoking has well-documented negative health consequences, among them several that directly damage the eye:

  • Constricts small blood vessels
  • Elevates blood pressure
  • Reduces oxygen efficiency in red blood cells
  • Releases free radicals that promote cataracts

If you have diabetes and you are a smoker, certainly you've been told this already by your doctor: STOP SMOKING!

Diabetes puts your eye health at risk, but control is not completely out of your hands. Keep these risk factors in mind and successfully manage them, and you have a much-improved likelihood of enjoying good eye health and effective vision.