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Eye Care Tips for People with Diabetes

When I was first diagnosed I learned about the risk of diabetes complications. While these can be tough discussions to have, I knew it was important to learn the potential impact diabetes could have on my body. My eye doctor told me that eyes are one of the first places where you can become aware of diabetes complications, so eye care is always on the top of my list. Here are 6 tips for protecting your peepers:

1. Focus on Your Numbers

High blood glucose levels can damage the delicate blood vessels in your retina, and affect the shape of your eye’s lens, temporarily causing blurry vision, according to the American Diabetes Association. Three common eye diseases of people with diabetes are diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. Diabetic retinopathy is the weakening of the tiny blood vessels in the retina, glaucoma is the buildup of pressure in the eye, and cataracts is the clouding of the lens, which can permanently blur your vision. Maintaining good glucose control can help reduce your risks.

2. Get Annual Eye Screenings

Each year, visit your ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam that includes a glaucoma test, a cataract test, and a dilated eye exam. An optional screening test you may want to consider is retinal imaging, which helps detect diseases early and provides a permanent and historical record of changes in your eye so it’s easy to discover even subtle changes in your health year after year. Yearly eye screenings allows you to begin treatment as soon as possible if signs do appear. If you notice any change in your eye sight, don’t wait until your next appointment.

3. Wear Some Shades

You wouldn’t go in the sun without sunscreen would you? (No!) Protect your eyes as you would protect your skin. UVA exposure can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration, so always shield your eyes from the sun with UVA and UVB sunglasses. Find a snazzy new pair this summer and add a new accessory to your wardrobe.

4. Quit Smoking

Smoking has a harmful effect on every body’s system, especially people with diabetes, and the eyes are no exception. While smoking has not been proven to increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy, it may aggravate many other health problems, including the disease of the small blood vessels. Equally important, people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a stroke or heart attack, and smoking can significantly raise that risk. Whether you’re a smoker and have tried to quit, or want to quit for the first time, don’t give up. Talk to your healthcare team about your options.

5. Get Moving

Exercising regularly can help improve glycemic control, one of the contributing factors in determining how likely you are to develop eye damage related to diabetes. Make an appointment with yourself to exercise at least three times a week for 60 minutes each day, and treat it like a real appointment. If you’re just starting an exercise routine, start out slowly by walking 20-30 minutes a day. You can break this up into two 15 minute sessions if it works better with your schedule, too. Be sure to check with your healthcare team before starting an exercise program. If you already have eye problems, ask them for exercises that you need to avoid so there isn’t additional strain the blood vessels in your eyes(like weight lifting and high impact exercises.)

6. Eat a Healthy Diet

Protecting your eyes can start with eating a well-balanced diet including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc can help reduce the risk of developing cataract and macular degeneration. Here’s a list of foods you may find helpful:

  • Vitamin A: orange and yellow vegetables, eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, mango, kale, apricots, spinach
  • Vitamin C: blueberries, blackberries, kiwi, broccoli, papayas, orange, lemon, melons, cauliflowers and other citrus fruits and vegetables
  • Vitamin E: nuts and nut oils, avocado, pumpkin, sweet potato, mangoes, tomatoes, papaya, quinoa, brown rice, whole oats
  • Beta-Carotene: asparagus, grapefruit, peppers, plums, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, kale, carrots
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, fish oil, flaxseed oil, black currant seed oil
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, peas, avocados
  • Zinc: kidney beans, black-eye peas, lentils, sunflower seeds, spinach, cashews, mushrooms, seafood, beef, lamb, chicken, pork
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