Caring for a family member or loved one with diabetes can be a significant and daunting task. This month, during Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, our experts are sharing insights on what to watch for with diabetes and provide additional education and resources on the topic as it relates to vision care. Our hope is to provide supportive guidance that will help caregivers feel more confident and empowered when it comes to diabetes.
Diabetic Eye Disease: What to Watch For
Diabetes is a common medical condition that is estimated to impact 1 in 10 Americans and can cause vision complications. According to the World Health Organization, more than 75% of patients who have had diabetes for more than 20 years will have some form of diabetic retinopathy, a general term for retinal problems caused by diabetes.
A leading cause of blindness, diabetic retinopathy often arises as a result of diabetics having difficulty naturally regulating blood glucose levels. Prolonged and persistent high blood sugar can cause blood vessels in the eye to react by swelling, leaking, or growing in areas and directions they should not. This all negatively affects the retina, which is the area of the eye that receives and converts light to ultimately tell our brains what we are seeing.
As a caregiver, it is important to understand that there are ways to prevent diabetic retinopathy. You can support your loved one by helping them maintain the following and monitoring their progress:
- Proper medical treatment of their diabetes and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels
- Healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients
- Regular exercise
- Refraining from smoking
- Seeing their ophthalmologist annually
- This is a particularly important area to watch for and support, as diabetic retinopathy may present no symptoms, especially early on. Comprehensive eye exams are crucial to early detection of vision complications.
How Does Diabetes Impact Vision?
We often hear caregivers asking just how diabetes and vision problems are linked. The reality is that high blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. They can swell, leak, or close by stopping blood from passing through. All of these symptoms can steal vision and ultimately lead to blindness.
Can Diabetic Retinopathy Be Treated?
Yes! Ophthalmologists are working hard to develop technologies to advance the detection and diagnosis of diabetic eye disease. In October 2020, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) released an article outlining the medical advancements that are on the horizon, including artificial intelligence that can detect eye damage caused by diabetes.
While ongoing research continues to produce advancements in treatment, there are also options now for an ophthalmologist to effectively treat diabetic eye disease. Depending on the location and severity of the problem, the ophthalmologist may recommend surgery or a laser procedure. Medication can also be a viable option to help slow or stop vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy.
How Can I Best Support as A Caregiver?
At the end of the day, the best support you can offer is helping your loved one stay on top of both their medical and ophthalmic care. Ensuring they maintain all appointments and follow directions from their doctors will help them to manage their diabetes and offer the best possible outcomes for their overall health and vision health.
If you have questions now about their eye health or ways you can better support, contact our team of experts today. We are here to serve as a part of your loved one’s care team and offer guidance each step of the way!