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When people are diagnosed with diabetes, one of their main concerns is keeping their blood sugar at a proper level. While that is certainly an important factor in staying healthy, it is also important to remember that diabetes can affect numerous other facets of a person’s health, including vision and hearing.
Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases where the body’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin or does not properly respond to the insulin it produces, resulting in high blood sugar levels. This is a serious and chronic condition affecting more than 29 million Americans.
How does diabetes affect the eyes?
The most common manifestation of diabetes in the eye is development and progression of a cataract, which is cloudiness of the lens in the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is a more serious complication of diabetes, which occurs when blood vessels in the retina change, sometimes causing swelling and leaking fluid in the retina. In more serious cases, the blood vessels can close off, leading to permanent vision loss. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina and can cause bleeding in the eye or even a retinal detachment.
People with diabetic retinopathy often don’t notice vision changes in the disease’s early stages, but as it progresses it usually causes vision loss that in many cases can’t be reversed. The longer the duration of diabetes, and the more uncontrolled the blood sugar, the more likely patients will suffer long-term damage.
What can diabetes do to your hearing?
Diabetes can also cause problems with your ears. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes as it is in people without the disease. One in three people with diabetes will experience hearing loss.
When diabetes affects the blood vessels throughout the body, it damages the vessels in your ears. While other parts of the body can use alternate blood supplies, the ears cannot. Diabetes also damages nerves, which can cause ear problems. Not only can diabetes affect your hearing, but it can affect your balance, too, since the ears are an important factor in maintaining balance.
How to prevent diabetic complications
Diabetic eye and ear problems are preventable, though. Patients can prevent retinopathy and other related visual loss through tight blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control. This can be done through a combination of a good diet, regular exercise, and taking medications as directed by your primary care physician.
Diabetic patients should get their eyes checked regularly. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your primary care physician will refer you to an eye doctor to have your eyes checked with a dilated eye exam once a year. Yearly exams are recommended initially, but if retinal disease is noted, your eye doctor may ask you to come in more frequently. If treatments are needed, you will likely be referred to a retina specialist for treatment. There are several options for treatment, including laser eye surgery, injections of medication into the eye, or surgery in the operating room.
“Diabetes affects more than 30 million individuals in the United States and is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among working age individuals,” CEENTA Ophthalmologist and retina specialist Omar Punjabi, MD, said. “Once patients notice problems with their eyesight, it usually is late in the disease process. That’s why screening eye exams are critical to prevent blinding complications of diabetes. Thanks to advances in basic and clinical research, several new and successful treatment options are available today.”
You should also quit smoking, because in addition to all the health problems associated with smoking, it can work in tandem with diabetes to accelerate hearing loss. It’s a good idea to also take steps to manage your exposure to loud noise. If you can’t work in a quiet environment, you should wear noise canceling devices like earplugs or earmuffs.
CEENTAcares about fighting diabetes
CEENTA is doing more to fight the complications of diabetes than just caring for your eyes and ears. This year, through our charitable arm CEENTAcares, we are raising money for the American Diabetes Association. Fundraising takes place through the annual CEENTAcares Golf Tournament, “Denim Days” at the local practices, and other, smaller charitable events. The ADA was chosen as this year’s charitable partner through a poll of CEENTA employees.
Don’t let diabetes take your vision and sight. Let CEENTA help you today.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. If you or someone you know has diabetes, call 704-295-3000 to make an appointment with one of CEENTA’s eye doctors or audiologists today.
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