Save Your Vision
Protect Your Eyes
People who have diabetes are at a higher risk for glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, in which fluctuating blood glucose levels slowly damage the retina. A rapid change in your vision can often be a first sign of diabetes. Plus, blurred vision is a potential complication of the disease.
Incorporate these 11 eye-saving tips into your daily routine to help prevent or slow the progression of diabetic eye disease.
Sunglasses are more than just a fashion statement. Donning shades can protect your eyes from exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These damaging rays can increase the risk of developing vision problems such as cataracts. And because people with diabetes are already at a higher risk for cataracts, it's especially important to protect the eyes from the sun.
Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection whenever you step outside, even if it's cloudy, because UV rays can pass through haze and thin clouds. It is especially important to wear sunglasses at higher altitudes and during the afternoon when UV light is more intense.
Find the Right Pair
When seeking out the perfect pair of sunglasses, look for these qualities:
- Labeled with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection
- Lenses or frames should wrap all the way around your temples, so the sun's rays can't enter from the side.
- If you can splurge, opt for polarized lenses -- which provide additional protection from sharp glare and bring out a stronger color contrast in what you're seeing.
- Look for and avoid optical imperfections in the lenses such as warps or bubbles
As far as which color lens to choose, Peter Kaiser, M.D., ophthalmologist at The Cole Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic, says that the color doesn't matter as long as it has the UV protection. You can even purchase eyeglasses with no color that can have a UV protective lining. "In fact, cheap lenses that are dark and have no UV protection can often be more dangerous," Kaiser says. "The dark sunglasses make your pupils larger, allowing more UV rays to enter than if you were not wearing the sunglasses."
Wear a Wide-Brimmed Hat
Hats shield your eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays. Choose a hat that shades your entire head and neck. For the best protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through.
Wearing a baseball cap provides good shade for your eyes, but it's not as good at protecting your ears and the back of your neck. If you want to protect your skin from the sun when wearing a baseball cap, wear clothing that covers those areas or apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
Step Away from the Computer Screen
Though no studies have found that staring at your computer screen damages your vision, you can still feel the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). The American Optometric Association says CVS is a complex of eye and vision problems that are experienced during or related to computer use.
Symptoms of CVS include:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry or irritated eyes
- Eyestrain or eye discomfort
To prevent CVS:
- Take a break from looking at your computer screen every 10-15 minutes.
- Reduce the glare from harsh lighting in the office.
- If you can, replace fluorescent lights with full-spectrum lights.
- If your eyes dry quickly, use eye drops regularly.
- Talk with your eye doctor about computer eyeware.
Smoking causes damage throughout your entire body, including your eyes. When you inhale cigarette smoke, the toxic chemicals absorbed into your bloodstream deplete the antioxidant reserve that protects your body from free radicals, which may cause damage to the macula, says ophthalmologist Peter Kaiser. The macula is a specialized part of the retina that creates your central vision and allows you to see fine detail such as the letters on this screen. When the macula is damaged, it leads to the development of macular degeneration, a chronic eye disorder that deteriorates the eye tissue responsible for central vision.
Smoking may also cause damage to the lens of your eye. The lenses inside your eyes are elastic, but smoking prematurely ages them, making them rigid and discolored. "This can cloud or blur your sight and may obstruct the path of vision," says Robert Layman, O.D., of The Pinnacle Eye Group in Toledo, Ohio, and member of the American Optometric Association. "It may also hasten the need for reading glasses in middle age."
Eat Foods Packed with Antioxidants
Just like the rest of your body, your eyes reap the benefits of a healthful diet. A study conducted by the National Eye Institute found that a diet packed with antioxidants and other nutrients may help protect your eyes from developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
Incorporate these nutrients and their food sources in to your daily diet.
- Vitamin A: carrots, boiled spinach, turnip greens, kale, parsley, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, asparagus, green beans, apricots, broccoli
- Vitamin C: broccoli, bell peppers, kale, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, papaya, chard, cabbage, spinach, kiwi, snow peas, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, limes, tomatoes, zucchini, pineapples
- Vitamin E: mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, olives, tomato, blueberries, broccoli
- Zinc: beef, lamb, summer squash, asparagus, venison, chard, collard greens, shrimp, broccoli, peas, yogurt, pumpkin seeds
- Beta carotene: sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, garden peas, Brussel sprouts
- Omega-3 fats: salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, scallops, cauliflower, cabbage, halibut, shrimp, cod, tuna, soybeans, tofu
Keep Blood Glucose in Check
"There are two reasons why blood glucose control is so important," ophthalmologist Peter Kaiser says. "The first is that the high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels throughout the entire body; in the kidneys, the heart, and even in your eyes." After your blood vessels are damaged from high glucose levels, they become like a garden hose with holes in it. Fluid will leak into your eye, causing the retina to swell and vision to blur. "This can ultimately lead to ischemia or lack of blood supply to the eye, causing blindness," Kaiser says. "And diabetes is currently the number-one cause of blindness in America."
The second reason blood glucose control is so important is to help prevent early cataracts. "When you have high blood sugar, it changes the makeup of the lenses much faster," Kaiser says.
Keeping your blood glucose under control can help reduce blurry vision, but Kaiser says it is imperative to see an eye doctor right away when your vision is blurred because once vision is impaired, treatment often must begin immediately. In this situation, ophthalmologists have options such as laser surgery and medication that optometrists usually don't.
Remember Your A1C
When you schedule your next eye appointment, bring your most recent A1C reading along. Your eye specialist will use this as a guide for what to look for during your exam. "If the numbers are out of the ordinary, it lets us know that we need to take a closer look for any sign of hemorrhages and blood vessel side effects," says optometrist Robert Layman. "It also helps explain why those things may have occurred."
Walking 30 minutes or more a day helps your body use insulin more efficiently. The more efficiently you use insulin, the better your blood glucose control, which helps keep your eyes healthy. Exercise also helps you lose body fat, which also improves insulin sensitivity.
Doctors recommend people with diabetes perform daily aerobic exercise for at least 20-30 minutes in order to boost cardiovascular health and keep a healthy weight.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
Hypertension can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. High blood pressure in combination with diabetes taxes the blood vessels throughout your body and over time can cause them to harden, narrow, and even burst.
Normal blood pressure: below 120/80 mmHg
Prehypertension: above 120/80 mmHg but below 139/89 mmHg
Stage 1: between 140/90 mmHg and 159/99 mmHg
Stage 2: 160/100 mmHg or higher
Lower Your Cholesterol
Lowering your cholesterol will not only improve your overall heart health but also improve your eye health.
Deposits of cholesterol, called plaque, can form inside the arteries throughout the body. "This buildup can reduce the blood flow to any given area of the body, including your eyes," says optometrist Robert Layman. "This can compromise the nutrition and oxygen supply your eyes need."
Having high cholesterol by itself won't cause noticeable complications in your eyes, but in combination with having diabetes it can help eye problems progress more rapidly, ophthalmologist Peter Kaiser says. "Controlling your lipids along with controlling your blood sugar levels will prevent further damage down the road."
Have a Comprehensive Dilated Eye Exam
Early detection and treatment of eye problems can reduce significant vision loss. But many of the symptoms of diabetic eye disease or diabetic retinopathy are undetectable without an eye exam, which is why the National Eye Institute recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least once a year.
"The eye becomes a window to how diabetes is progressing," optometrist Robert Layman says. "Having a comprehensive dilated eye exam is a good preventative measure for patients with diabetes, and with the improving technology we are able to catch any complications way in advance."
Depending on how diabetes has affected your vision, having an eye exam once a year may not be enough. Talk with your eye doctor and physician to find out how often they recommend you have your eyes checked.
What to Do When Your Eyesight Fades
If you are already experiencing some problems with your vision, your doctor may recommend the following:
Laser eye surgery. Laser surgery is recommended for those who have diabetic retinopathy, macular edema or retinal swelling, and proliferative diabetic retinopathy where the growth of new blood vessels can bleed. There are two types of laser surgery:
- Focal laser treatment slows the leaks and reduces the amount of fluid in the retina. It is usually completed in one session.
- Scatter laser treatment shrinks the abnormal new blood vessels in the eye. The procedure is usually completed in two or more treatment sessions. You may notice some loss of side vision, but this treatment can save the rest of your eyesight.
Treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery involves removing the natural lens in the eye when it becomes clouded and replacing it with an artificial lens. It is the main treatment for cataracts. When a person with diabetes has cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, the retinopathy needs to be treated more aggressively before cataract surgery can be considered. If macular edema is present before cataract surgery, visual results may be worse than expected.
Intravitreal injection. Your eye specialist may recommend an intravitreal injection, in which medication is injected into your eye, when you do not respond to laser treatment. You may feel some pressure as the medication is injected, but it should not be painful.