(BPT) – Diabetes can affect many aspects of a person’s health, such as increasing the risk for heart disease, stroke or serious kidney damage. However, many people may not realize that diabetes can also damage the eyes.
More than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2.3 million of them have Diabetic Macular Edema, or DME, which is a frequent cause of vision impairment in people with diabetes and can eventually lead to blindness. Approximately one-third of these cases are undiagnosed.
DME is “swelling of the macula,” the part of the eye responsible for central or fine vision. Chronic high blood sugar from diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina, potentially causing fluid to leak into the retina, leading to macular swelling.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that, in general, people with diabetes have a yearly dilated eye exam. Specific eye drops, which dilate the eye, are used to allow the eye doctor to see the macula and check for signs of certain problems like DME.
“A swollen retina causes the central vision to become distorted and blurry but often diabetic macular edema has no visual symptoms until extensive damage has been done,” says David Brown, M.D., a retinal surgeon. “In addition to keeping blood sugar under control, it is so important for people with diabetes to have a dilated eye exam every year so that their eye doctor can catch any diabetic damage early.”
Studies have shown that controlling diabetes is important in protecting vision. According to the National Eye Institute, managing blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure can slow the onset and progression of eye complications in patient with diabetes.
“Managing diabetes can seem overwhelming, but your health and your eyesight depend on it,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator. “Even small changes can mean big results if you know where to focus your efforts.”
She offers the following advice to people with diabetes:
* Make realistic changes that you can live with
* Set up your environment to support healthy choices such as making sure plenty of healthy grab-n-go foods are on hand and tempting foods are not
* Engage in safe physical activity (always check with your doctor)
* Take diabetes medication exactly as prescribed
* Get a dilated eye exam every year
Early detection and timely treatment can help prevent vision impairment from DME, and the holidays are the perfect time for people with diabetes to schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor.
To learn more about diabetes and eye health visit www.WatchYourVision.com.