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Nerve & Eye Care in Diabetes

Nerve pain is a common symptom of diabetic complications. It is also known as peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy. This type of pain can affect both Type I and Type II diabetic patients. It can be severe, constant, and sometimes very hard to treat. 68% of people with neuropathy are diabetics. Among all diabetics, about 23% to 29% have peripheral neuropathy and this number keeps rising to around 65%. If you are a diabetic patient and have been experiencing some common symptoms such as shooting, burning, pins and needles, numbness, throbbing and tingling sensations in your feet or hands, you could be having diabetic neuropathy!

Diabetic neuropathy can take years to develop. In the early stages, you may not notice the signs at all. As it progresses, you may start to feel a tingling sensation or numbness in your feet or hands at first. The feeling is often worse at night. You are experiencing painful symptoms, this would mean that your nerves have been damaged for a long period of time. Nerve damage can affect your ability to sleep, decrease your quality of life, and can cause depression. About one-third of diabetics report that there are no noticeable symptoms at all.

There are ways that you can prevent further damage and relieve your pain. First and foremost, all diabetic patients must control your blood sugar level. Controlling your blood sugar level is important because it can help prevent additional damage to your nerves. You can try the following methods to control your blood sugar level:

  • Avoid food high in sugar content
  • Eat foods high in fibre and contain healthy fats
  • Eat non-starchy vegetables and plant-based proteins regularly
  • Cut out most processed grains if possible
  • Monitor your blood sugar level as recommended by your doctor to identify patterns and unusual changes in your blood sugar level
  • Bring your own lunch to work or school, and try to have some healthy snacks with you
  • Take insulin or oral medications as instructed by your doctor regularly
  • Drink 6 – 8 glasses of water daily to keep you hydrated
  • Use natural sugar replacements like stevia instead of using table or artificial sugar
  • Exercise at least 3 – 5 times a week

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications found that regular exercise can cause significant reductions in pain and neuropathic symptoms in diabetics and increased intraepidermal nerve fiber branching. Conducting physical therapy exercises such as swimming can help treat diabetic neuropathy. Low-impact exercises (ie yoga, tai chi) are the most effective as high-impact (running, skipping) exercises can quickly cause numbness.

Diabetic neuropathic patients are more likely to develop kidney problems. Lower your exposure to sprayed chemicals, household chemicals, tobacco, alcohol, and unnecessary medications. Quit smoking as soon as possible if you are a diabetic patient because your risk of developing nerve damage and even have a heart attack or stroke is higher than a non-smoker.  Nerve damage left unattended can lead to serious health complications. These include:

  • Damage to blood vessel and heart; increase risk of coronary heart disease
  • Amputation of the limbs
  • Frequent severe infections’ due to low immunity
  • Diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, glaucoma
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Damage to the nerves in the bladder and urinary tract which cause frequent urination
  • Damage to the kidneys

Nerves in the feet and hand are most often affected by neuropathy. This can cause you to lose your sensation. Sometimes, sores and cuts can go unnoticed. This can cause infections and may lead to foot ulcers. Left unattended, this may lead to amputation where you may lose your toes or even your foot. To avoid these, monitor your symptoms and look for any signs of skin damage (blister, sore, reddish skin, ulcers). Foot care and skin care are also important in managing complications of diabetes. Some tips on how to protect your skin and feet are as follows:

  • Wash your skin and toenails properly daily
  • Wear clean socks and shoes
  • Trim toenails, corns, and calluses properly
  • Avoid walking barefoot
  • Visit a doctor if you notice any swelling, redness, or sore
  • Keep your skin moist; prevent dry or cracked heel

Studies show that some natural anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants help stop the progression of nerve damage and lower the pain. These alternatives include:

  • Alpha lipoic acid – is a powerful anti-oxidant to prevent further nerve damage for diabetics. It also helps in insulin sensitivity and defends against neuropathy.

  • Chromium picolinate – is an essential mineral which helps in blood sugar metabolism in both obese and Type II diabetes

 

  • Vitamin B12 – B12 deficiency is common among vegetarians, older people and those who take metformin. Lacking this vitamin may worsen the peripheral neuropathy. Besides taking B12 supplement, you may include foods high in B12 in your diet such as poultry, fish, lean meat, eggs, and cereals

  • Ginkgo Biloba / L-Arginine – works by improving blood circulation throughout your body

Diabetic Eye Disease

High blood sugar causes the lens of the eye to swell which changes your ability to see clearly. There are three common eye diseases that can develop from untreated diabetes which are cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.

  • Cataracts – Is a condition where your lens becomes cloudy and makes you unable to see clearly and to focus. About 60% of diabetic patients experience quick deterioration of the lens compared to non-diabetics. Cataracts can be removed with surgery and the old lens can be replaced with a new lens
  • Glaucoma – caused by an increase in the intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye). When the pressure increases, it can damage the optic nerve which can cause permanent vision loss. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – the most common eye problem among diabetic patients. It happens when the blood vessels in the retina are damaged (swelling and leaking). Sometimes, new blood vessels can grow on the surface of the retina

Although you are at risk of getting eye disease, controlling your diabetes will reduce your risk of complications to your eye.

  • Visit your doctor regularly or monitor your blood sugar level
  • Control your diet (reduce carbohydrate intake)
  • Do regular eye examinations (at least every 6 months)
  • Consider taking eye supplements (Lutein & Bilberry)

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