On World Diabetes Day, we spoke with David Abdy – who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes ten years ago aged 32 – about his top tips for managing your condition to prevent Diabetic Retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes – either type 1 or type 2 – caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. However, it usually takes several years for diabetic retinopathy to reach a stage where it could threaten your sight so taking steps to minimise the risk is critical.
Dave’s top tips are:
- Manage your blood sugar as best you can – at the end of the day, it’s consistently high blood sugar levels that make you more at risk of diabetes complications, including serious eye problems. So controlling your blood sugar properly is my absolute No.1 tip. Knowing what your target blood sugar levels are and regularly checking before taking insulin is the best way of preventing damage to the blood vessels in the eyes and other parts of the body.
- Get your eyes screened – eye screening is a way of picking up eye problems before they become more serious. Make sure you get them regularly checked – I always have them screened once a year without fail. The screening is free on the NHS. If you are unsure what to expect from eye screening, see below.
Spot changes in your eyesight – I’m very aware of my eyesight and pay attention to even small changes as you might not have any symptoms of retinopathy before it starts to affect your sight. Fortunately, I haven’t noticed any significant changes but if I did, I would make an appointment with my GP straight away and I wouldn’t wait until my next screening!
- Know your blood pressure and cholesterol – High blood pressure and a lot of fat in your blood (called cholesterol) will increase your chances of getting eye problems. This is because your blood vessels can get damaged or blocked, so the blood can’t move around your eye properly. Like many people with different health conditions, I am prescribed simvastatin to help keep my cholesterol down. Again, your GP is the best person to ask if you feel you need support with this.
- Be as healthy as you can and give up smoking – I smoked until I was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes and I practically gave up overnight. But I know it isn’t that easy for some people. Being healthy, active, not smoking, and keeping within the guidelines for alcohol consumption are good tips for everyone but are particularly important if you are trying to maintain your target blood sugar levels.
What to expect at you eye screening – here’s a helpful explanation from the @DiabetesUK website:
You’ll usually see a nurse, who will explain what’s going to happen during the eye test. The nurse will put drops in your eyes to make your pupils larger, so they can see the retina more clearly. This doesn’t hurt, but the drops may sting a bit and make your vision blurry for a few hours.
Then they’ll take a photo of both eyes – the light of the flash will be bright but it won’t hurt.
Your sight may be blurry for a while after the test, so it’s a good idea to bring someone with you to take you home – you will not able to drive for several hours afterwards. Also, take some sunglasses with you as everything will seem very bright!