Diabetes and your vision

As the leading cause of blindness in the UK’s working-age adults, diabetes is a condition that is still often under-diagnosed and often poorly managed. While the failure to properly treat the metabolic disease can lead to permanent loss of vision, the variety of these cases can be prevented so long as the right steps are followed.

Diabetes is caused by a failure of the body to regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. Among the most common symptoms are frequent urination, as well as increased thirst and and hunger. Often times, these symptoms are hard to detect, especially if they develop gradually over time. For this reason, leading charity Diabetes UK believes that as many as a million people in the UK have the disease without realising. In the US, this figure is believed to be as high as seven million.

Most research points to the majority of cases of diabetes (the vast majority are type-2) being brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle, something that has become a chronic problem in today’s sedentary society of fast food, fizzy drinks and television watching. But it’s important that you don’t dismiss the disease based on the fact that it has such a high undiagnosed rate.

Failure to properly treat it can lead to serious long-term complications including heart disease, kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nervous system that can result in ulcers and often require foot amputation), and the aforementioned retinopathy, or damage to the eyes.

Taking the right precautions

While the risks are serious, it is possible to successfully manage the condition and ensure it doesn’t prevent you from leading a long and healthy life. The most important step is to address the underlying lifestyle changes required to improve overall health – usually a combination of quitting smoking, eating healthier, consuming less food overall and undertaking more regular exercise.

For some, it will be possible to control their blood sugar levels via diet and exercise alone, but there are also numerous drug medications that can have this same effect, although their effectiveness will be undermined if you continue to follow an unhealthy lifestyle. As with any chronic condition that can lead to the development of serious health issues, the main thing for people with diabetes to do is to ensure that they pay close attention to their bodies and notify their GPs of any changes so that conditions can be diagnosed as early as possible.

Protecting your eyes

When it comes to lowering the risk of diabetes-caused retinopathy, there are also several additional steps to follow to ensure maximum eye care (find out more here). Eye disease linked with diabetes is usually caused by the network of blood vessels within the retina leaking. Over time, this can impair your central vision and ability to see detail and, if left untreated, it can cause total blindness.

The main thing to remember is that existing treatments for diabetic retinopathy are preventative rather than cures. They can only protect what vision you have left rather than reversing any losses you have already suffered. Therefore taking the right precautions is once again the most important step. For this reason, diabetics should have an eye-test at least once a year.

These are free on the NHS for those who have the metabolic disease because of the known risk of retinopathy. If the blood vessels in the retina have leaked, they will need to be sealed using laser treatment to prevent further loss of sight from occurring.

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