Reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy or help stop it getting worse. Keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.
This can often be done by making healthy lifestyle choices. But some people will also need to take medication.
Adopting a few lifestyle changes can improve your general health. It can also reduce your risk of developing retinopathy.
Lifestyle changes include:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- losing weight if you're overweight - aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9.
- exercising – aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.
- stopping smoking
- not exceeding the recommended alcohol limits
Your GP may prescribe medication to help control your blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
Use the BMI calculator on the Safefood website to work out your BMI
The Diabetic RetinaScreen programme helps people with diabetes in Ireland who are at risk of retinopathy. If diabetic eye disease is found early, treatment can reduce or prevent damage to your sight. You can register for diabetic retina screening by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55.
Know your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
It can be easy to keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. But you'll need to check them regularly and know what level they are.
The lower you can keep them, the lower your chances of developing retinopathy are. Your diabetes care team can let you know what your target levels should be.
If you check your blood sugar level at home, it should be 4 to 10mmol/l. The level can vary throughout the day, so try to check it at different times.
The check done at your GP surgery is a measure of your average blood sugar level over the past few weeks. You should know this number, as it is the most important measure of your diabetes control.
It's called HbA1c, and for most people with diabetes it should be around 48mmol/l or 6.5%.
You can ask for a blood pressure test at your GP surgery, or you can buy a blood pressure monitor to use at home. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as 2 figures.
If you have diabetes, you'll normally be advised to aim for a blood pressure reading of no more than 140/80mmHg. If you have diabetes complications, such as eye damage, the reading will need to be less than 130/80mmHg.
Your cholesterol level can be measured with a simple blood test carried out at your GP surgery. The result is given in millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/l).
If you have diabetes, you'll normally be advised to aim for a total blood cholesterol level of no more than 4mmol/l.
Even if you think your diabetes is well controlled, it's still important to go to your diabetic eye screening appointment. This can detect signs of a problem before you notice anything is wrong.
Early detection of retinopathy increases the chances of treatment being effective. It also stops it getting worse.
You should also contact your GP or diabetes care team immediately if you develop any problems with your eyes or vision, such as:
- gradually worsening vision
- sudden vision loss
- shapes floating in your field of vision (floaters)
- blurred vision
- eye pain or redness
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have diabetic retinopathy. But it's important to get them checked out straight away.