Older woman relaxing after Diabetic Retinopathy

Every year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes November as Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Diabetic eye disease is far more common than you may think.

In fact, diabetic retinopathy which is the eye disease that’s most closely linked with diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults over 60. Diabetic eye disease can steal your vision if you aren’t careful.

Luckily, while neither diabetes nor many similar conditions can be cured, they can be effectively managed. But there are steps everyone with diabetes should take to protect themselves from long-term damage from eye disease. Keep reading for 4 tips for Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month!

1. Know What Conditions are Associated with Diabetes

There are several eye-related conditions associated with diabetes. Many of these conditions are also associated with aging in general, specifically, cataracts and glaucoma.

Having diabetes increases your risk of developing these conditions. They can and do affect patients who don’t have diabetes. But diabetic retinopathy is directly linked to diabetes.

When your blood sugar levels are too high in your blood, it can damage your blood vessels. This causes them to constrict and even close off completely.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels that connect your retina to your circulatory system become blocked. This leads to swelling and leaking blood vessels in your retina. It also causes abnormal blood vessel growth in the late stages of the disease.

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, while the blood vessels in your retina swell and leak, there are usually no noticeable symptoms. Only when the disease advances will it start affecting your vision.

Damage to the retina causes vision loss. But at this point, any damage already done is irreversible.

It’s important to catch the disease in its early stages to prevent further damage and vision loss.

2. Know Your Risk

Some diabetics are at more risk than others for diabetic eye diseases. There are several factors that can increase your risk, including:

  • Tobacco use
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Being of African, Native American, or Hispanic descent
  • Unmanaged blood sugar levels
  • Having diabetes for 10 or more years

If you’re diabetic, you should be aware of your risk levels. Have an honest conversation about your medical history with your eye doctor. The higher your risk, the more careful you and your doctor should be about looking out for potential signs of diabetic eye diseases.

3. Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk

There’s no way to guarantee you’ll never develop diabetic retinopathy or other diabetic eye diseases. What you can do is take steps to lower your risk.

The best way to do this is to live a healthy lifestyle. Don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly.

Be sure to keep your blood sugar levels under control. When they’re too high for too long, diabetic retinopathy is a virtual certainty.

4. Have Regular Eye Exams

The number one thing you should do to protect yourself from long-term damage from diabetic eye disease is to see an eye doctor regularly. Your eye doctor can tell you how often you should have eye exams based on your personal risk.

You have to take the initiative to go in, talk with them, and be diligent about regular appointments. When caught early, diabetic retinopathy can be managed with a combination of medication and surgical options. This can delay damage from retinopathy for potentially years to come.

Not sure if your eyes are in good shape? Schedule an appointment at Eyecare Medical Group in Portland, ME, and get your vision back on track!