Save your sight

Control your diabetes to avoid eye complications

Diabetics are at a higher risk of developing blindness than non-diabetics. Hence, it is important for them to regularly check their eyes, and monitor their blood sugar levels. Just doing these things can save up to 90 per cent of their vision.

However, people often have doubts about the diabetes-eye connection. Here, we clear some of the most common ones:

How does high blood sugar affect one’s eyes?

Uncontrolled diabetes can affect your eyes in many ways—frequent fluctuations in vision, glaucoma, decreased vision and temporary paralysis of the muscles of eyes are some of its effects. However, the most significant complication is diabetic retinopathy; it causes blindness.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the blood vessels of the retina. In early stages of diabetic retinopathy, the damage is minimal and doesn’t affect vision.

However, in the absence of timely care, it may eventually lead to closing of the blood vessels. In such cases, as the disease progresses, new blood vessels are formed, which are fragile and bleed into the eyes, thus causing vision problems and blindness.

How can I know that I am suffering from diabetic retinopathy?

Periodic eye check-ups by an ophthalmologist will reveal it to you. Often, the retina can get damaged before you experience any noticeable change in vision. And examinations help doctors detect retinopathy at an early stage, when it is still treatable.

Pregnant women with diabetes need to get a comprehensive eye examination in the first trimester, then follow it up regularly till term.

What can one do to prevent diabetic retinopathy?

  • Maintain your blood sugar levels within normal range and test for HbA1c levels [amount of glucose that attaches to red blood cells] at least twice a year; HbA1c levels should be less than seven per cent.
  • Work with your physician to plan your medications, diet and physical activity. The landmark Diabetes Complications and Control Trial has proved that each 10 per cent reduction in average blood glucose levels, lowers your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by roughly 60 per cent. It also prevents worsening of pre-existing retinopathy by 43 per cent.
  • Take care not to miss your doctor’s appointments.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol.

Although modern insulin delivery devices and home blood glucose delivery devices have made diabetes management really convenient and hassle-free for diabetics, keeping diabetes under control helps minimise complications associated with diabetes.

This was first published in the November 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Dr Rakesh Sahay, MD, DM [Endocrinology], is a professor of endocrinology at the Osmania General Hospital, Hyderabad. He is also secretary of the Endocrine Society of India.


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