The aim of World Diabetes Day this year is to promote the importance of affordable and equal access for all women at risk of, or living with, diabetes to the medicines and technologies used to treat it.
Many people don’t realise the role your eyes play in the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Blurry vision is a symptom that can indicate that a person may have developed diabetes and, when you’re examined as part of a routine eye test, the optician will check your eyes for signs of the condition.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when glucose (sugar) is unable to enter your cells to be converted to fuel, meaning that there is an excess amount left in the body. If left untreated, it can lead to some serious health complications.
There are two main types of diabetes.
- Type-1 diabetes cannot be avoided and is often present from birth. It occurs when there isn’t any insulin available in the body to unlock cells that need to use the glucose. About 10% of diabetes sufferers have type-1 diabetes.
- Type-2 diabetes can develop later on and is often related to diet and lifestyle choices. It occurs when the insulin that we have in the body is unable to get through to the cells. A large majority of people with diabetes have type-2.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that moves glucose into our cells to be converted to fuel. If there’s a problem with this, our body begins to struggle. Think of insulin as the key that unlocks the door to the cells.
How do you develop diabetes?
One of the reasons women are the focus of this year’s campaign is that traditional gender roles and power dynamics in society have left women vulnerable to a lack of diagnosis, particularly in developing countries. Inequalities, such as a lack of education, or access to good nutrition, put them at risk.
While socioeconomic disadvantages increase vulnerability to diabetes, they aren’t the only factor. Unhealthy lifestyles are a major player in the development of the condition. Thankfully, diabetes can be managed if detected early, but a lack of a diagnosis could lead to other health complications. This means that having check-ups where symptoms can be detected are important, and an eye test is one example of such an examination.
Does diabetes affect eyesight?
While blurry vision can sometimes be a sign of diabetes, there are also several eye conditions that diabetes can lead to, if left untreated. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. This condition also leads to diabetic macular edema, a swelling in an area of the retina called the macula.
Adults with diabetes are also 2-5 times more likely to develop cataracts, which could occur at an earlier age than for someone who didn’t have the condition. Diabetes also doubles the risk of glaucoma, with both eye problems increasing the probability of blindness or considerable vision loss.
How can you prevent diabetes?
Fortunately, you can help to prevent type-2 diabetes with some simple lifestyle changes. First, if you tend to go for long periods of time without getting your eyes tested, get into the habit of going for regular check-ups. This should be at the very least every two years. If you’re wearing contact lenses or glasses, eye tests are vital to ensure that they are comfortable and provide the correction you need, but also gives you regular screening for diabetes and other conditions that can be detected through your eyes.
Healthy diet and exercise are important for preventing the onset of type-2 diabetes. Eating food that is high in fibre and switching from white pasta and rice to wholegrain, are just 2 ways of changing your diet for the better. You don’t need to intensively exercise; even 30 minutes or more of brisk walking a day is known to be beneficial in avoiding diabetes.
If you haven’t been for an eye test in the past 2 years, make it a priority. Not only is it important for your vision, but it can help detect conditions early, meaning that you can treat diabetes before it starts to have a serious impact on your health.