You can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, or help stop it getting worse, by keeping your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.
This can often be done by making healthy lifestyle choices, although some people will also need to take medication.
Adopting a few lifestyle changes can improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing retinopathy. These include:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet – in particular, try to cut down on salt, fat and sugar
- losing weight if you're overweight – you should aim for a BMI of 18.5-24.9; use the BMI calculator to work out your BMI
- exercising regularly – aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking or cycling, a week; doing 10,000 steps a day can be a good way to reach this target
- stopping smoking if you smoke
- not exceeding the recommended alcohol limits – men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 alcohol units a week
You may also be prescribed medication to help control your blood sugar level (such as insulin or metformin), blood pressure (such as ACE inhibitors) and/or cholesterol level (such as statins).
Know your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels
It can be easier to keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control if you monitor 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, or less than 130/80mmHg if you have diabetes complications, such as eye damage.
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 attend your annual diabetic eye screening appointment, as this can detect signs of a problem before you notice anything is wrong.
Early detection of retinopathy increases the chances of treatment being effective and stopping 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 don't necessarily mean you have diabetic retinopathy, but it's important to get them checked out straight away.