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  • Don’t Let Diabetes Distress Ruin Your Vision

    Reviewed By Purnima S Patel, MD
    Published May. 23, 2024

    Having diabetes can feel overwhelming. Constant attention to diet and blood sugar can leave patients feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. This feeling is so common that it has an official name: diabetes distress.

    Diabetes distress can come and go. Some patients experience it after diagnosis. Others feel it during changes in their treatment regimen. Many people feel it when complications are diagnosed.

    Working hard to manage diabetes without seeing positive results can feel discouraging. Even worse is finding out that you have diabetes-related complications despite your best efforts to prevent them.

    “Patients feel weighed down trying to keep up with nutrition, exercise, blood sugar monitoring, insulin dosing, and more,” explains ophthalmologist and Academy member Ferhina S. Ali, MD, MPH. “Most people already have busy and demanding lifestyles. Juggling all of that can feel exhausting.”

    Diabetes burnout can affect your eye health

    Some people become so mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted by the disease that they progress to the level of diabetes burnout. People with diabetes burnout find it overwhelming to keep up with their own care. They may begin to neglect their medications, stop going to doctor's appointments, and feel powerlessness to maintain their health.

    Diabetes burnout may tempt you to slack off disease management. Poor self-care and blood sugar control are especially common among people who feel burned out on their diabetes care. But this can increase your risk of serious health problems.

    Keeping good control of your blood sugar and monitoring your A1C are critical to preventing eye problems and vision loss that diabetes can cause.

    Diabetic retinopathy is a serious complication that can lead to blindness. Diabetes can also lead to cataracts, glaucoma and other surprising vision complications.

    The key lesson: Don’t let yourself slip into unhealthy habits that put your eyesight at risk.  

    “People are often scared to lose their vision but feel overwhelmed trying to stay on top of ophthalmology appointments and necessary eye treatments,” said Dr. Ali. “But sticking to those visits and therapies is the key to keeping your eyes seeing well,” she said.

    Do you have diabetes distress or diabetes burnout?

    Diabetes distress and diabetes burnout may show up in various ways, including feeling:

    • unable to cope with diabetes
    • overwhelmed and/or powerless
    • disengaged or frustrated during doctor appointments
    • detached from support networks
    • unmotivated to attend doctor appointments
    • unmotivated to monitor blood sugar levels as often as recommended by your doctor
    • unmotivated to take your medications on time, every time

    It’s especially important to reach out to your doctor if you have suboptimal A1C or unstable blood glucose levels, or if you feel like eating emotionally.

    Where to find help for diabetes distress or diabetes burnout

    It’s common for people with diabetes distress or diabetes burnout to feel that the mental burden of diabetes outweighs their ability to cope with it.

    Recognizing this feeling is important. Tell your doctor or a trusted friend if you’re struggling with the constant stress of diabetes care. Otherwise, you may slip into unhealthy habits that put your eyesight at risk.  

    Finding a support group can be helpful. Ask your primary care doctor, endocrinologist and ophthalmologist to recommend a support group they trust. Many support groups exist in person as well as online and on social media. It’s helpful to get support from others in the same situation or learn new tips for coping with common issues.

    Ophthalmologists are essential resources

    If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and have not had an eye exam, it’s critical to schedule one now. Your ophthalmologist will recommend regular follow-up visits, and you should not skip them. Sticking to your scheduled eye appointments will allow your ophthalmologist to catch problems before they can steal your vision.

    “Managing diabetes can feel complicated, and your ophthalmologist is here to help offload some of the work,” said Dr. Ali. “We have the tools and expertise to monitor for and treat anything that may endanger your eyesight.”