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Millions across the UK have diabetes, which affects us in many different ways – with our eyes being a particular cause for concern.

The increasingly common condition is essentially an inability of the body to break down glucose levels, causing a person’s blood sugar to become too high.

And there are a surprising number of ways this can lead to eye problems.

As such, eye expert Dr Shane Kannarr, leading medical reviewer for All About Vision , has answered some common questions about the signs and symptoms of diabetic eye problems, and steps you can take to mitigate any risks to your sight.

Q: Other than diet and exercise, what else can I do to lower my blood sugar to help my eyes?
Getting enough sleep has a range of health benefits , including helping to maintain your blood sugar levels. Sleep deprivation decreases the release of growth hormones and increases cortisol levels. Both of which play a significant role in blood sugar management. Make sure you’re getting good quality sleep each night and aim for at least seven or eight hours per night.
You can also try drinking plenty of water to help keep your blood sugar levels low. Staying hydrated will help your kidneys flush out the excess sugar through urine and help reduce your risk of diabetes.
Surprisingly stress can affect your blood sugar levels. Managing your stress through exercise or relaxation methods like yoga as well as mindfulness can help you regulate blood sugar levels.
Q: Why does high blood sugar affect a person’s eyes?
High blood sugar can change the blood vessels in our retina or cause swelling in the tissues of our eyes which help us see, causing blurred vision. High blood sugar can also change the shape of our lens, and if left untreated, it can lead to problems like cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy.

Q: Is it true diabetic eye disease has no symptoms until it is advanced to a significant level?
The earlier you’re diagnosed with diabetic eye disease, the better your visual outcome will be.

The goal is to find changes before damage is irreversible. Blurry vision is the first, and main, warning sign and can be treated. Sadly, most diabetic eye disease has no symptoms until it is advanced to a significant level.

That is why annual comprehensive eye exams are so important. Once caught, it can take as long as three months for your vision to fully get back to normal, if it does. Without treatment, it can lead to vision loss. In fact, diabetes is the primary cause of blindness in adults between the ages of 20 to 74.

Q: What can diabetes actually do to the eyes?
Diabetes’ destruction to eyes stems from the body failing to make or effectively use insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Insulin, and the pancreas that pumps it out, processes and ships blood glucose from your food to your body’s cells.

When it operates smoothly, blood sugar serves as your main energy source. But, if you have high blood sugar, glucose stays in your bloodstream rather than reaching your cells. This process can lead to vision loss and, ultimately, blindness.

Diabetes is a disease that affects small blood vessels; excess blood sugar damages the body’s smallest blood vessels and impairs blood flow. This starves the capillaries of the tissues feed and leads to leaking blood vessels, swelling and oxygen deprivation.

Fluid leaks can also change the shape and size of the eye’s lens, causing cataracts. These leaks also can harm the retina, the back of the eye, where visual images are formed. Diabetes can produce bleeding and excess fluid in the retina, which can have a serious effect on our vision.

Q: What are the four main symptoms indicating diabetes?
The four main symptoms found in the eyes that can detect you may have diabetes are

blurred or distorted vision
dark spots in your vision (floaters)
flashes of light
“holes” in your vision
Q: Are there any other unusual early warning signs a person needs to be aware of?
You may notice headaches, eye aches or pains, watery eyes, blurred vision, halos around lights and vision loss.

If you find yourself suffering with one or more of these warning signs it’s best to check with your eye care professional to detect any problems early and get started on treatment.

Again to ensure the best outcome and early treatment of diabetic eye disease, annual comprehensive eye exams with an eye care professional is key.

Most conditions have no symptoms in the earliest stages. If treatment occurs during the early stages visual outcomes are the most positive, and treatment can be burdensome on the patient.

The majority of patients with diabetes have no visual symptoms. They may experience blurred or wavy vision or patches of missing sight without actually realising that these are serious. Annual eye exams can save your sight by finding these conditions early, before they cause long-term, irreversible vision loss or blindness.

Not just any visual exam will do; a full comprehensive vision examination is necessary. Eyes should be dilated with drops to help open up the pupil, which is critical for allowing your doctor to perform a thorough retinal exam.