Diabetic Retinopathy Self Care
You can take steps to slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Control your blood sugar
Tight control of blood sugar slows the onset and progression of retinopathy and lessens the need for surgery. Tight control means keeping your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Ideally, this means levels between 90 and 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) before meals and less than 180 mg/dL two hours after starting a meal – with a glycosylated hemoglobin A1C level less than 6 percent. A glycosylated hemoglobin A1C test, also called a glycated hemoglobin test, reflects your average blood sugar level for the two- to three-month period before the test. Your doctor uses it to determine how well you’re managing your blood sugar.
Tight control isn’t possible for everyone, including some older adults, young children and people with cardiovascular disease. Talk to your doctor, your endocrinologist or diabetes educator about the best blood sugar control goals and management plan for you. A management plan frequently involves taking insulin or other medications, monitoring blood sugar levels, following a healthy eating plan, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. It may take some time before the benefits of lowering your blood sugar are realized. And remember that better control lowers but doesn’t eliminate your risk of developing retinopathy.
Keep an eye on vision changes
In addition to getting an annual eye exam, be alert to any sudden changes in your vision. Have your eyes checked promptly if you experience vision changes that last more than a few days or aren’t associated with a change in blood sugar, or if your vision becomes blurry, spotty or hazy.
Keep your blood pressure down
Tight blood pressure control slows the progression of diabetic retinopathy. To reduce your blood pressure, you may need to make lifestyle changes and take medications.
Control your cholesterol
Total blood cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dL are associated with a significantly increased risk of vision loss. As with high blood pressure, treatments to improve your blood cholesterol may include lifestyle changes and medications.
Smoking is especially bad for people with diabetes because it promotes the closure of blood vessels.
Stress can cause swings in blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Stress may affect your ability to control your blood sugar. For example, you may be too busy to exercise or eat a good meal. Stress hormones also can directly affect your blood sugar levels, causing them to rise or fall. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a counselor, therapist or support group to control your stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation also may be helpful.