A Patient’s Guide to Diabetic Retinopathy Self-Care

Jeannette | Posted on May 31, 2024 

If you have diabetes, you may be at risk for a vision-threatening condition called diabetic retinopathy. Nearly one-third of individuals with diabetes over the age of 40 have this condition.

As one of the leading causes of adult blindness, diabetic retinopathy is a growing issue. However, the good news is that patients can regain a sense of control by taking their treatment into their own hands.

A diabetic retinopathy self-care routine can help you manage your symptoms and prevent this condition from progressing. It involves making a few lifestyle tweaks that will also benefit your overall health.

Want to learn more about diabetic retinopathy care strategies you can implement on your own? Read on for our expert tips.

Monitor Your Blood Pressure

Increased blood flow to the veins in your retinas can worsen diabetic retinopathy. That’s why doctors recommend that people with this condition manage their blood pressure.

Luckily, many of the same strategies for managing diabetes symptoms work for high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet low in fat, getting daily physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage blood pressure.

Other beneficial tips include changing certain lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. Getting plenty of sleep and lowering your stress levels are also strategies for controlling blood pressure.

Watch Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver. It is essential for digesting certain nutrients and promoting cell health. However, too much cholesterol can block blood flow, which can be harmful to people with diabetic retinopathy.

Fat can build up in the small veins of the retina. These deposits may block blood flow to the eyes and increase the risk of losing your vision in the long term.

We primarily consume cholesterol through our diets. To manage your cholesterol and benefit diabetic retinopathy symptoms, watch your unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats), which are found in processed foods.

You can also incorporate more cholesterol-lowering foods. Healthy fats (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids) found in olive oil and certain fish and high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are excellent choices if you are watching your cholesterol.

Manage Your Blood Sugar

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high amounts of sugar in the blood. Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk since this condition reduces the body’s ability to remove sugar from the bloodstream.

One of the best strategies for managing diabetic retinopathy, then, is to adhere to your diabetes treatment plan. Check your blood sugar regularly, take your diabetes medication(s) as instructed, and follow all other guidelines your doctor recommends to keep your blood sugar in check.

Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are two more ways to keep your blood sugar in check and better manage your diabetes and diabetic retinopathy symptoms.

Eat a Nutritious Diet

Eating a nutritious diet can combat diabetic retinopathy risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Certain foods may even help prevent individuals with diabetes from developing diabetic retinopathy in the first place.

For example, fish and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia and flax seeds, walnuts, eggs, and yogurt, may offer protective effects against diabetic retinopathy.

Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins that are good for eye health are also a smart choice. Reach for red, orange, yellow, and purple produce, which are rich in the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.

Some studies have found that people with diabetic retinopathy are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. Incorporating more vitamins A, B, C, D, and E and zinc and copper may be beneficial for this reason.

Do Aerobic Exercises

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disorder, meaning it gets worse over time. Luckily, physical activity may help slow the progression of this condition. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day is sufficient.

How is that possible? Exercise and physical activity have anti-inflammatory benefits for the retina. Inflammation plays a major role in both the development and progression of this condition.

Additionally, exercise may reduce the severity of diabetic retinopathy symptoms. Symptoms of this condition include eye floaters, blurry vision, eye pain, and, eventually, vision loss.

Lower Your Stress Levels

We all know that stress is bad for us. It can be particularly harmful to people with certain chronic conditions, including diabetes mellitus. High stress levels can make it more difficult to manage diabetes, indirectly affecting diabetic retinopathy onset and progression.

Following many of the tips on this list can help you lower your stress levels. For example, consider partaking in stress-reducing physical activities like yoga and tai chi.

Leaning on your social bonds can also help you manage stress. Seek emotional support from your friends and family members. You can also join a support group to connect with other individuals with diabetic retinopathy.

Other ways to help manage your stress levels include doing deep breathing exercises, meditating, and practicing mindfulness. Even taking time for your favorite hobbies and passions is a great way to de-stress.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for diabetic retinopathy, especially in people with type 1 diabetes. That’s why doctors often recommend quitting or significantly reducing the use of cigarettes if you have this condition.

The relationship between smoking and diabetic retinopathy is not completely understood. However, experts do know that smoking can reduce oxygen circulation in retinal blood vessels.

As mentioned, smoking can also exacerbate high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, both of which are known risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy.

This Is Your Diabetic Retinopathy Self-Care Guide

This guide to diabetic retinopathy self-care explains the top ways you can manage your symptoms at home. If you have diabetes and are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, you can also use these tips to lower your risk.

Do you need help managing diabetes or diabetic complications like diabetic retinopathy? Family Medicine Austin serves patients of all ages in Austin and Leander, TX. We offer comprehensive services for the diagnosis and management of an array of conditions, including diabetes.

Schedule an appointment today to get the expert advice you need to thrive.

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