Diabetes and Vision Loss November Is Diabetes Awareness Month
For millions of people in the United States who have diabetes or pre-diabetes, improving health and avoiding diabetes-related complications are essential. The good news is that there are new medications and technologies that can help people manage diabetes and improve their quality of life. One of the most common and serious complications of diabetes is vision loss. Careful monitoring and regular eye exams can help preserve vision.
The most important step is to have regular physical exams with a physician and regular comprehensive dilated eye examinations with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Diabetic eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, a serious eye disorder caused by damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye, often have no symptoms in its early stages. By regularly monitoring eye health, treatment can begin as soon as signs of disease appear, helping to prevent vision loss.
As always, anyone experiencing sudden changes in vision should see an eye care professional immediately.
Technology can help people with diabetes monitor their sugar levels in their blood if they are unable to use the traditional finger stick. Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) allows levels to be monitored using sensors placed on the arm or the belly that collect data on a continuous basis. There are also implantable CGM sensors that can be placed under the skin in the upper arm by a physician. The sensor, known as Eversense, sends glucose data to a transmitter worn on the skin over the implant and then to the system’s mobile application via Bluetooth. While the finger stick remains the gold standard and the most accurate method for monitoring sugar levels, a combination of traditional and new methods can help people manage their diabetes in a more efficient and safe way. Talking meters that read sugar levels out loud can be particularly helpful for people with diabetes who have vision loss. Mobile medical apps can help with key components of diabetes self-management, helping with keeping track of insulin dosing, communication with caregivers, and collecting, organizing and transmitting data to a health care team.
In addition to new technologies and apps that can be installed on smart phones to help individuals manage diabetes, there are new treatments and methods of delivering insulin that are more user friendly. Everyone is different, so it is important that people with diabetes consult with their health care providers to determine the best plan for care for their individual situation.
For people with diabetes who have vision loss, joining a diabetes support group in their local area is a good way to learn from others and share experiences. Some of these support groups may now be meeting virtually. In New York City, Lighthouse Guild’s self-management diabetes education program, which is recognized by the American Diabetes Association, offers both in person and virtual sessions for individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes, providing guidance on practical techniques for taking medications, strategies for monitoring blood sugar, and essential tips on making healthy lifestyle changes.
For more information about risk factors, symptoms and treatment for diabetes visit: American Diabetes Association (ADA), https://www.diabetes.org; Lighthouse Guild, https://www.lighthouseguild.org; Centers for Disease Control (CDC), https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html and the National Institutes of Health, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes.
Dr. Carmen Pal specializes in internal medicine, endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism in Lighthouse Guild’s Health Center.