Even though we know quite a bit about what causes diabetes, this metabolic disease is more prevalent than ever. A relatively large percentage of adults will develop diabetes or prediabetes at some point over the years, and ignoring those conditions is extremely dangerous. Diabetes is going to impact almost every aspect of an individual’s health, and that includes their vision. Eyesight problems and diabetes are closely intertwined, and those who have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes must be wary of any changes to their eyesight. Here is a quick look at the basics of diabetic eye care and some steps that you can take to keep your eyes healthy while you are trying to get your diabetes under control.
A Closer Look at Diabetes
There are actually two different types of diabetes, and both of those conditions present their own unique challenges. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes, and it is usually diagnosed at a relatively young age. Doctors still aren’t sure exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but many experts now classify it as an autoimmune disease. Those who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes must usually take some form of insulin and carefully watch what they eat. There currently isn’t a permanent cure of this form of diabetes, but patients can do quite a bit to mitigate some of the worst side effects.
Also known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 diabetes usually develops later on in life. Most doctors and researchers agree that type 2 diabetes is the result of one’s lifestyle habits. That includes an individual’s dietary choices and their overall level of activity. Many people have prediabetes for years without even realizing it, and that preliminary condition will eventually evolve into type 2 diabetes if sweeping lifestyle changes aren’t made. Type 2 diabetes is typically treated with a strict diet and some form of medication that regulates insulin production.
What Does Diabetes Do to the Body?
An incredible amount of research has been done on diabetes, and we now know that this condition negatively impacts almost every part of the body when it is left untreated. Over the course of a few years, a patient’s organs could become permanently damaged, and that will affect their breathing, weight, immune system, energy levels, and metabolism. The cardiovascular system is going to be affected as well, and there may come a point when the body can’t get fresh blood cells to the extremities. That is eventually going to result in a life-altering nerve condition known as diabetic neuropathy. Luckily, many of those issues can be avoided as long as the patient catches and treats their diabetes early on.
Diabetes and the Eyes
Every patient who has been diagnosed with this metabolic condition should explore their options for diabetic eye care. Studies have revealed that both types of diabetes can take a toll on the eyes, and some patients fully lose their vision after a few years. Those same studies have also shown us that diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness among working-age adults. In the earliest stages of diabetes, the patient might begin to notice relatively minor problems with their vision such as blurring or difficulty seeing at night. Another common side effect that many diabetic patients experience is “floaters” in their vision. When they don’t move their eyes for a few moments, they might see spots or dark strings floating in their vision.
Almost all of those issues occur because the blood vessels in the eyes have been severely damaged. There is currently no known cure for that damage, but patients can do quite a bit to avoid it. They can also prevent further damage by sticking to a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the root causes of their diabetes. A multifaceted treatment plan is also going to help patients avoid severe health problems like ruptured blood vessels, heart disease, and kidney damage.
Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy is a medical term that is used to describe the eye damage that is caused by untreated diabetes. This particular complication is generally broken up into four different stages, and patients are going to experience unique side effects in every stage. The first stage of this condition is referred to as mild nonproliferative retinopathy, and the symptoms are very mild. Patients might notice some blurriness or loss of vision, but those side effects tend to be rare. As the disease progresses, this condition could escalate into moderate nonproliferative retinopathy. During this stage, Dr. Reena Patel will most likely notice unusual problems with your eyes.
The last two stages of retinopathy severely impact an individual’s eye health and vision. Most patients who have advanced retinopathy struggle with a wide variety of secondary issues including severe vision loss, an inability to see at night, and color blindness. In the latest stages of diabetes, permanent blindness becomes a major concern.
Early Warning Signs
In order to avoid all of these side effects and unwanted complications, an individual must keep an eye out for any early warning signs of diabetes. The most common side effect of prediabetes is a sudden change in one’s appetite. An individual might feel the need to constantly snack no matter how much they have eaten. Increased thirst is another common warning sign, and many diabetic patients never feel hydrated no matter how much water they drink. When the condition progresses, those side effects could impact an individual’s weight. Some diabetic patients suddenly lose pound after pound while others gain an incredible amount of weight within a short period of time.
If you or a loved one has recently noticed any of those issues, then you need to speak with a doctor about being screened for diabetes. After the age of 45, you should be tested for diabetes once every few years even if you haven’t noticed any of those early warning signs. Diagnosing an individual with diabetes usually requires a series of blood tests carried out over the course of a few weeks. Once you have been diagnosed with this condition, you must immediately come up with a long-term treatment plan.
Treating Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic eye care with Dr. Patel is going to be very important if you have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. That being said, some diabetic patients never develop retinopathy, and that is why you must be screened for this condition as well. Testing for diabetic retinopathy is relatively easy, and we usually suggest a simple dilated eye exam. During that exam, Dr. Patel will look for abnormalities such as swollen blood vessels, excess fatty tissue in the retina, and scar tissue. If you have diabetic retinopathy, then Dr. Patel will need to discuss all of your treatment options.
When these issues are caught early on, diabetic eye care is much more straightforward. Dr. Patel will keep a close eye on your eyes while you come up with a treatment plan with your primary doctor or diabetes specialist. For advanced retinopathy, there are a few different procedures to choose from. Photocoagulation is a laser treatment that will force the blood in the eyes to coagulate, and that can prevent further damage to the retina. This procedure won’t reverse the damage, but it will delay your vision loss or put a stop to it entirely. Dr. Patel might also suggest that you combine traditional photocoagulation with another laser treatment known as panretinal photocoagulation. That treatment is going to shrink the damaged vessels and potentially restore your vision.
If Dr. Patel determines that there is quite a bit of scar tissue in your eyes, then you will probably need to undergo a surgical procedure known as a vitrectomy. A vitrectomy is only necessary when the structure of the eye has been severely damaged and the patient could potentially go blind. Following one of these treatments, you will most likely be prescribed some type of medication that prevents new and unhealthy vessels from forming. Even after your diabetes has been treated, you could still have quite a bit of damaged tissue in your eyes, and that could result in unwanted complications down the road.
Retinopathy is just one of the many complications that diabetic patients need to be wary of, and the only way to avoid all of those issues is to start making some lifestyle changes. Type 2 diabetes is a devastating disease, but most patients can fully reverse this condition by altering their diets and becoming more active. Your primary physician will probably recommend that you meet with a registered dietitian who has experience working with diabetic patients. Most experts agree that diabetic patients must adhere to strict diets that limit their intake of processed sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Instead of eating simple carbs and sweets, you should fill up on lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. You must also eat plenty of fresh produce so that your body gets all of the micronutrients it needs. Your dietitian might suggest that you carefully track your caloric intake if you need to lose weight or stay within a certain weight range. Exercising a few times a week is going to be important as well, but your diet is the most important variable in this equation.
Preserving Your Eyesight and Rebuilding Your Life
After being diagnosed with diabetes, you might feel hopeless, but you need to be proactive if you want to preserve your health and eyesight. While there currently isn’t a single treatment that will completely cure this condition, countless patients have been able to reverse their diabetes by making changes to their lifestyle habits. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or have a family history of this condition, then you need to have your eyes checked right away. Dr. Patel can quickly test you for diabetic retinopathy in a single appointment that takes no more than a few minutes. She can also help you come up with a long-term diabetic eye care plan that preserves your eyesight.
To learn more about diabetic retinopathy and its various treatments, please get in touch Dr. Patel at Wichita Vision Institute in Wichita, KS. Dr. Patel would love to tell you more about the many benefits of diabetic eye care. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!