Diabetes is a worldwide pandemic that can cause various health conditions including eye sight problems which can lead to severe vision loss or blindness. In fact, it is the leading cause of blindness in people aged between 20 and 74. World Diabetes Day (14 November 2019) is the perfect opportunity to learn more about diabetes related eye conditions and how to manage or prevent it.

What is diabetes and diabetic eye disease?

Diabetes is the outcome of long periods of increased blood glucose levels (also known as blood sugar levels). Since glucose is an essential source of energy for the body, your blood naturally contains glucose. However, if there is too much glucose in the blood, this can damage important organs. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps to transport glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells that produce energy. If there is a lack of insulin in the body, glucose remains in the blood which causes blood sugar levels to rise, leading to pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Related health complications can harm important parts of the eyes and lead to diabetic eye disease, vision loss and blindness. High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the eye’s retina, a very sensitive part of the eye where it converts incoming light to visual “messages”. Diabetic retinopathy is when the small blood vessels start leaking or are blocked. This condition is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. The risk also increases during pregnancy when the body produces numerous hormones and the body occasionally can’t produce enough insulin to regulate sugar.

There are additional areas of the eye that could be damaged by diabetes:

  • Lens – the lens of the eye is transparent and sits behind the iris (coloured part of the eye). It helps to focus light on the retina.
  • Vitreous fluid – the transparent, colourless mass that fills the space between the lens and retina.
  • Optic nerve – it connects the eye to the brain and carries visual messages from the retina to your brain and from your brain to the eye muscles.

How often should I have my eyes tested?

If you are diabetic, frequent eye check-ups are necessary. This will detect any changes that might occur and may be treated right away to prevent vision loss.

                                                                                                                                           We at Mellins i.Style recommend that people between the ages of 16 and 59 should have an eye test and examination at least once every two years. Annual eye examinations are however recommended if you have diabetes or are older than 40 with a family history of diabetes, glaucoma or ocular hypertension.  

Tips for preventing diabetic eye disease:

  • Have regular eye examinations – In its early stages, there are no symptoms. Optometrists are therefore often the first health care professionals to detect chronic systemic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Regular eye examinations are an important part of health maintenance for everyone.
  • Keep your blood sugar levels under control – People who keep their glucose levels in check are four times less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than those who only followed their standard diabetes treatment.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels – Eating a healthy balanced diet, cutting back on sodium and keeping an eye on your waistline will reduce risk factors.
  • Exercise regularly – As regular exercise reduces the risk factors for certain serious health conditions, it will also help maintain good eye health.  
  • Quit smoking, limit your caffeine and alcohol intake – These lifestyle changes will bring you a few steps closer to preventing diabetic eye disease and minimise the risk of losing your eyesight.