It’s well known that eating a lot of high-sugar foods can have harmful effects on the body. But did you know that consuming too much sugar can also potentially affect your eyesight? If your blood sugar (blood glucose) levels become too high for your body to break down, it can leave your eyes prone to a sight-threatening condition called diabetic retinopathy.
People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose be absorbed into your cells to supply them with the energy they require to function.
How Does Diabetes Affect Eyesight?
When you consume high-sugar foods like soda, candy, mangoes, and even pineapples, your body will do one of two things: either it will burn the sugar and use it for energy, or it will convert the sugar and store it as fat.
Ordinarily, when a person consumes sugar, the body releases insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, the body produces insufficient insulin or the cells resist the effects of insulin, causing blood sugar levels to spike.
How Sugar Affects People with Diabetes
Diabetic retinopathy affects up to 80 percent of people who have had diabetes for 20 years or more. Over time, high blood sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels of the retina at the back of the eye, causing them to swell and leak. Left untreated, this damage can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness.
Since diabetic eye disease typically shows no symptoms until it has reached more advanced stages, it's critical to have a comprehensive eye evaluation every year, allowing an optometrist to detect these signs early enough to prevent or halt vision loss.
Importance of Eye Exams
Your eye doctor can detect diabetic retinopathy during a dilated eye exam. The doctor will dilate your pupils with eye drops and then examine your eyes through a device called an ophthalmoscope that uses a bright light to examine your optic nerve, the blood vessels in and around the retina, and the back of the eye.
Your doctor might also use various specialized digital equipment, such as a fundus camera and an OCT device, to capture detailed color images of the retina that warrant further investigation.
Although an optometrist can use certain tests to detect signs of diabetes, without a comprehensive eye exam, the early warning signs that point to diabetes can be missed. To maintain your health, schedule regular eye exams and share any health changes that have occurred since your last appointment.
Treatments for Diabetic Retinopathy
There are a variety of treatment options for diabetic retinopathy that may either prevent vision loss. Sometimes they can even improve your vision, even if your eyesight is already blurred. One treatment option entails medication that is injected into the eye to quickly reduce retinal swelling. Another option is laser surgery, which can be used to shrink and seal off swollen and leaking blood vessels in the retina.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Stick to a steady diet and exercise regimen
- Control blood sugar and blood pressure to prevent damage to the fine blood vessels within the retina over the long term
Preventing and managing diabetic retinopathy is possible and requires a team, including your eye doctor and other medical professionals.
Your eye doctor will perform a comprehensive eye exam to determine whether you have diabetic retinopathy, assess its severity, and discuss preventative strategies as well as the latest treatment options.