Diabetic Retinopathy: Managing and Preventing Damage to the Retina
Diabetic retinopathy is a severe complication of diabetes. The condition affects the retina – a layer at the back of the eyeball containing light-sensitive cells that trigger neural impulses. These impulses pass to the brain via the optic nerve to form visual images. Diabetic retinopathy can damage the retina’s blood vessels and potentially cause visual impairment or blindness. Proper management, treatment, and preventative measures can protect your vision. Below are some critical steps for managing and preventing diabetic retinopathy.
Managing Diabetic Retinopathy & Preserving Vision
Diabetic retinopathy management strategies differ depending on the severity of the condition.
Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
If you have diabetic retinopathy in its early stages, also known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, your retina specialist will monitor your eyes very closely for any signs of retinal damage. You may require a comprehensive dilated eye exam every two to four months, depending on your doctor’s orders. Treatment is not always necessary during the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
In the later stages of diabetic retinopathy, also known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy, prompt intervention is essential, particularly if changes in your vision have occurred. At this stage of the condition, abnormal blood vessels have formed on the surface of the retina, leaking fluid and blood into the eye. This can damage vision in a variety of ways and can even lead to a tractional retinal detachment, in which the retina is pushed out of place by fluid or scar tissue. Even if vision damage has already begun, immediate intervention can prevent further deterioration of your vision.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Retinal Damage
Specific lifestyle changes can significantly slow or prevent the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Control Blood Sugar Levels
Maintaining blood sugar control is crucial to preventing or managing diabetic retinopathy. This includes regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels, taking your medication or insulin as your doctor prescribes, and following a healthy diabetes lifestyle plan.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet rich in a variety of bright-colored fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (e.g., avocadoes, olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish) to help control blood sugar levels and prevent complications of diabetes, such as retinopathy. Limit the intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive carbohydrates.
Engage in Regular Exercise
Regular physical activity helps improve blood sugar control. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a healthy goal is to engage in moderate-intensity workouts for at least 150 minutes weekly. Consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any new workout routine.
Smoking can exacerbate symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, increasing the risk of vision loss. If you use tobacco products, seek support to quit and adopt a smoke-free lifestyle.
Manage Blood Pressure & Cholesterol Levels
High blood pressure can worsen diabetic retinopathy. It’s essential to follow the recommendation of your healthcare team to control your blood pressure with medication, diet, and lifestyle changes. High levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) may also contribute to retinal damage. It’s essential to manage your cholesterol through diet and medication if necessary.
Severe long-term stress can adversely impact blood sugar levels. Stress-reduction techniques, including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation methods, can help lower stress levels.
Schedule Regular Eye Exams for Diabetic Retinopathy
Regular comprehensive eye exams are crucial for the early detection and management of diabetic retinopathy. Your retina specialist will monitor your eye health and recommend diabetic retinopathy treatment if necessary. If live in Florida and have diabetes, contact Retinal Group of Florida to schedule your comprehensive dilated eye exam today. We have several convenient retina centers located throughout the East Coast, Gulf Coast, Treasure Coast, West Coast, Naples, and Sarasota regions of Florida.