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Do All Diabetics Go Blind?

man getting eye test to see if diabetes has caused vision loss

Myths about Diabetes and Vision Loss

By Amanda Springstroh RN, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 10/29/2020 at 8:15 a.m.

Diabetes is a condition that tens of millions of people live with here in the United States. It’s also one of the most commonly misunderstood conditions.

There are several myths about diabetes and what it’s like to live with this chronic condition. Let’s look at some of these myths and address the relationship between diabetes and blindness – a common element to many myths and misconceptions.

Does diabetes increase the chance of vision loss?

For those living with diabetes, symptoms can be a daily challenge combined with the thought of losing your eyesight, it becomes easy to be concerned.

Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in adults? This is a frightening aspect to the disease, as most of us take our eyesight for granted. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes do have a heightened risk for eye complications and blindness.

Sight loss with diabetes, however, is not inevitable. Increasing your knowledge about vision health and learning preventative steps to take can preserve your eyesight for many years to come.

What causes diabetic vision loss? 

There are different eye diseases that can cause vision loss and are made worse by diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that develops due to poorly controlled blood sugars. When blood sugars are elevated, the blood vessels in your retina can swell and leak. This can cause blurred vision, floaters and ultimately lead to blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy cannot be cured. To prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy keep blood sugar level and blood pressure in control. Another way to slow or prevent diabetic retinopathy is to monitor your diet and stay up-to-date on yearly eye exams.

Cataracts

Cataracts are a condition when the lens of your eye starts to break down. Symptoms of cataracts include blurred or double vision, sensitivity to light and poor night vision.

Most cataracts are age-related because of normal changes in your eyes as you get older. Having diabetes, however, can cause cataracts to develop more quickly and at a younger age.

Cataracts are a very common reason people lose vision, but this condition can be treated depending upon your symptoms. It is important for you to contact your eye care professional and discuss your symptoms and options for treatment.  

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a serious issue and one of the leading causes of blindness for people over 60.

We’re often inclined to connect our overall health to our sight. If you can see you must be healthy.

Unfortunately, glaucoma is called a “silent thief of sight,” as there are no symptoms to warn you of its onset.

Glaucoma is a disease where fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. The extra fluid increases pressure on your eyes and damages your optic nerve, which carries images from your eyes to your brain. As these nerve fibers die, blind spots develop and can ultimately cause loss of vision.

If all the nerve fibers die, you will become blind. Unfortunately, this damage is permanent and irreversible.

Because of the nature of glaucoma, it is important to talk with your eye doctor about testing for glaucoma and what steps you can take to prevent this dangerous disease.

Macular degeneration

Occurring primarily in people over 60, macular degeneration is an age-related disease that, if severe enough, can cause permanent vision loss.

Macular degeneration occurs when the part of the retina known as the macula becomes damaged and interferes with central vision.

Even though your central vision is affected, your peripheral vision may be left undamaged. Generally, the first symptom for macular degeneration is blurred vision.

People who suffer from Type 2 diabetes show an increased risk of developing macular degeneration. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, which occur in green- and yellow-pigmented foods such as spinach, kale and egg yolks, also have been shown to decrease the risk of macular degeneration.

I am diabetic, so what can I do to help preserve my eyesight?

If you have diabetes, you may be worried about some of these issues and them potentially becoming a health liability. Here are some steps you can take to be proactive with your eye health.

Comprehensive eye exams

Early treatment is critically important to prevent vision loss or blindness. Routine eye exams help identify problems, that when treated early enough, can prevent or delay vision loss due to diabetic eye complications.

Unfortunately, some people do not experience any symptoms until it is too late to treat them. For this reason, it is recommended that if you are diabetic you need to have a dilated and comprehensive eye exam at least once every year by an eye care professional. Your eye care professional is the only one who can determine the actual health of your eyes.

Control your blood sugar

We all know that eating right is good for your health and wellbeing, but eating a balanced diet is critical maintaining your eyesight if you are diabetic.

If your blood sugars are too high, your eyesight will suffer. With simple blood sugar monitoring, you can learn how food will impact your blood sugar level (blood glucose). Talk with your personal doctor and educate yourself on steps to manage your blood sugar, which – when applied – will help prevent dangerous complications.

Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels

High blood pressure and high cholesterol place you at greater risk for eye disease and vision loss. Talk to your personal doctor about your numbers and what range is appropriate for you.

Keeping both your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control will not only help your eyes but your overall health.

Quit smoking or never start

You’re probably aware that smoking can cause severe health issues like cancer and heart disease.

You may not know, however, that smokers are also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and more likely to experience the diseases which cause vision loss. Smoking increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration which all lead to vision loss or blindness.

Quitting smoking is not easy, but it’s worth it for your health and improving your chances of keeping your sight well into your golden years.

Know your family eye health history

Many eye conditions are hereditary. Telling your eye doctor about any eye-related diseases in your family can help determine your own risk of developing these conditions early and when treatments are most effective.

Wear sunglasses whenever you are outside

Wearing sunglasses can protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. Ultraviolet light can affect your eyelids, cornea, lens and retina. A pair of sunglasses that are engineered for 99-100% UV protection can be very beneficial.

Can’t see the sun? You can still be affected. UV rays are present even when it’s cloudy. Sunglasses are important to block out those rays.

Prevention is the name of the game. By taking these steps, you should be able to reduce your risk of potentially blinding eye conditions. These tips are also a benefit to your overall health and help prevent other common diseases associated with diabetes.

Diabetes myths and the facts behind them

Myth - Diabetes is not that serious

Fact - Diabetes is a long-term and chronic health condition. It is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Although there is currently no cure, there are ways to manage your condition. Stress, food and exercise can all affect blood glucose. Through a balanced diet, lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication, getting control of diabetes can let you live a long and happy life without losing your sight.

Myth - Diabetics can’t eat sugar or carbohydrates

Fact - One of the most common misunderstandings about diabetes is diet and what diabetics can and cannot eat.

The key to eating healthy as a diabetic is balance, not avoidance. A balanced diet can include sugar and carbohydrates.

It’s important to remember that sugar alone does not cause diabetes. A healthy eating plan for diabetics should include lots of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, good quality proteins and involves limiting processed foods and sugary drinks (which are empty calories that don’t fill a person up).

 It’s not always what you eat but how much you eat. Portion control is key to keeping your blood sugars in range. To decrease your risk of diabetes, avoid excessive portions that help reduce insulin and blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, portion control can be key to avoid complications that result from blood sugar imbalance.

Myth - My parent is a diabetic, so I will get diabetes too

Fact - Diabetes is not contagious and is categorized as a non-communicable disease meaning it cannot spread from one person to the next.

There is a likelihood, however of genetic inheritance if a parent has diabetes. The actual condition is not passed on. Many people with diabetes have no close family members with diabetes.

Myth - Being overweight causes diabetes

Fact - Being overweight is a risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes, but it is not the only risk factor. Additionally, not all overweight people will get diabetes.

Diabetes can affect many populations and can even affect those that are underweight or of normal weight. Other risk factors such as age, lack of physical activity and family history of diabetes can all contribute as well, so it’s important for your personal doctor to know your complete medical history when assessing your individual risk and recommending preventative steps.

Myth - Only older people get Type 2 diabetes

Fact - Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. Unfortunately, in recent years, Type 2 has been on the rise in younger populations and is now considered a significant population risk for people of any age.

Children and parents should encourage and instill good eating habits as an entire family. Incorporate less screen time, more physical activity, less junk food and smaller portions.

Myth - All diabetics must take insulin injections

Fact - For those with Type 1 diabetes, your body is no longer able to produce insulin on its own. For this reason, insulin may become a necessity.

With Type 2 diabetes you have enough insulin, but your body does not respond well to it. Type 2 diabetes can be managed without insulin by losing weight, eating well and exercising. If diet, physical activity, weight loss and medications are not enough to achieve normal blood sugar levels then using additional and external insulin may be warranted.

A long and healthy life, full of beautiful sights, is possible with diabetes

Millions of Americans live with diabetes. Proper management, staying up to date on screenings and making necessary lifestyle choices can keep you healthy and reduce the risk of vision loss.

Schedule a yearly exam to see your eye care professional.

If you’d like information on how your Network Health plan can help you with your eyesight or other health considerations, reach out to us today.

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