Do you have diabetes? Have you heard of “Diabetic Retinopathy”?

Diabetic Eye Disease takes on many forms including the most serious problem:diabetic retinopathy.Individuals with diabetes need to get dilated eye exams at a minimum of once per year. It is also important to maintain tight control of their blood sugar levels, keep their blood pressure in check, and to avoid smoking. 

But the main culprit of what we know as diabetic retinopathy is time. Patients who have had diabetes for a long period of time are the most susceptible to developing blindness in the long term. Have you recently been diagnosed with diabetes? Are you a younger diabetic? Or are you someone who hasn’t heard of diabetic eye disease? 

In honor of Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, we will discuss what key steps to take in order to prevent “Diabetic Retinopathy.” 

First of all, what exactly is diabetic retinopathy?

Let’s break this down. 

A diabetic, simply put, is an individual who suffers from high blood sugar levels. 

Retinopathy is a disease of the retina, which is the part of the eye responsible for sensing light and sending signals to your brain that allow you to see. 

Diabetic retinopathy is therefore the disease in which sugar damages the part of your eye responsible for allowing you to see. This can even happen in the short term, when your sugar spikes too high or drops too low, changing the fluid levels in your eye. This can even lead to blood leaking within the eye, also known as vitreous hemorrhaging.  This can cause floaters, block parts of your vision, and ultimately can require surgery to correct. 

Who can get dabetic retinopathy?

Any individual, with any type of diabetes, can develop diabetic retinopathy.

What can I do to help prevent diabetic eye disease?

To start, remember a few key steps

  1. Maintain tight control of your blood sugar
    Individuals who do not keep their sugars within the determined ranges, are at a higher likelihood of developing diabetic eye disease.

  2. Early and Annual dilated eye examinations
    Diabetics who take the time to get regular dilated eye examinations usually can detect eye disease earlier on and get a headstart on preventing long term issues

  3. Keeping your blood pressure under control
    It's not just sugar that damages the eyes. High blood pressure, over time, can damage the tiny blood vessels in your eyes, and can lead to bleeding and ultimately damage of the retina. 

  4. Letting go of smoking
    Unfortunately, smoking is a key culprit of damage to all blood vessels. In the case of Diabetic Retinopathy, the tiny and delicate blood vessels of the eye are easily damaged by any form of smoking. Putting those cigarettes out now will help you keep your sight in the long run!

  5. Exercising 
    Exercise is a key in maintaining not just your weight, but it also helps with controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure. Both of these are key in long term diabetic eye health. 

Diabetes is the #1 cause of blindness in adults in our country. Yet, it does not develop overnight. Diabetic retinopathy occurs over several years and can frequently be ignored by newly diagnosed and/or younger diabetics. At its most treatable stage,it is often asymptomatic.Therefore, it is crucial to get yearly, dilated eye exams. 

Sarthi Dalal, D.O.