Having diabetes can increase your risk of certain health complications, which can include an eye issue called diabetic retinopathy. It causes damage to blood vessels in the retina. Without treatment, fluid can leak into the center of the retina (macula), leading to a condition known as diabetic macular edema (DME).

DME can cause blurred vision and vision loss. These symptoms often link with loneliness, worry, fear, and anxiety. And it’s common for people with vision loss to experience depression.

Diabetes management involves caring for your mental health as well. There are several things you can do to cope with diabetes and related changes to your vision.

Do you have trouble with reading, mobility, driving, or recognizing faces? Are you experiencing mental health distress due to vision changes? You might want to consider meeting with a low vision specialist.

A vision specialist is a doctor of optometry or ophthalmology who has expertise in treating people with low vision. They aim to improve quality of life through:

  • optical aids and assistive devices
  • home safety
  • orientation and mobility training
  • strategies for maintaining independence
  • psychosocial support

Ask your doctor for a referral or search for a certified low vision therapist through these searchable databases:

Low vision aids are tools that can help you take charge of vision changes and enhance your quality of life. A low vision specialist can help recommend which type of low vision aids you may benefit from. They may include:

  • large-print reading materials
  • audiobooks
  • high intensity lighting and lamps that you can bend and aim to a task
  • hand-held or stand magnifying glasses with built-in lights
  • telescopes or binoculars
  • watches and other devices with audible announcements
  • electronic devices that allow changes to text size, contrast, and voice commands

A low vision specialist may also recommend these types of strategies to help you cope with low vision:

  • Adjust lighting so that it’s less likely to create glare.
  • Try wearing a wide-brimmed hat, visor, or wrap-around sunglasses to reduce outdoor glare.
  • Rearrange and reorganize your home to eliminate tripping hazards and maximize efficiency. Use color contrast around the house to make certain items stand out.
  • When making lists or notes, use large bold markers.

When you’re dealing with diabetes-related vision changes, caring for your mental health is important. For some, vision loss feels like a loss of independence. Symptoms of anxiety or depression can sneak up on you, so take note if you start to experience:

  • excessive worry
  • trouble focusing
  • sensations of panic
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • sleep or appetite changes
  • fatigue
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • sadness, helplessness, or worthlessness

If that sounds familiar, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. You can also use these searchable databases to find a therapist near you:

If you experience vision loss or other diabetes complications, you may feel discouraged or genuinely frustrated by your efforts to manage the condition. It may even lead you to slip into unhealthy habits that are counterproductive for managing diabetes.

This is known as “diabetes distress.” If you’re feeling distressed, you’re far from alone. In any 18-month period, it affects 33% to 50% of people with diabetes.

Try these strategies to help you manage diabetes distress:

  • Engage in a little physical activity every day to boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Eat nutritious foods for overall good health.
  • Take medications as prescribed and let your doctor know if you aren’t doing as well as expected.
  • Reach out for support from family, friends, health professionals, and support groups. Ask for help with difficult tasks.
  • If you smoke, ask your doctor to recommend a smoking cessation program. Smoking increases the risk of eye disease and vision loss.
  • Contact your diabetes and vision care specialists regularly.
  • Ask for a referral to a certified diabetes educator who can help problem-solve and create a diabetes management plan that suits your lifestyle.
  • Implement just a few, realistic diabetes management goals at a time to avoid burnout.

Vision loss can lead to social isolation and loneliness, but it doesn’t have to. Take steps to stay in close contact with friends and family. If that’s difficult for you, ask others to take the lead with social plans. Think about trying new hobbies or finding new ways to enjoy old hobbies.

You might also find it helpful to connect with others affected by diabetes or vision loss. You can share experiences and tips with people who truly understand because they’re living it too. Your doctors and other health professionals may be able to refer you to support groups in your area.

When you have diabetes, your mental health matters just as much. This is especially true if you’re dealing with diabetes-related changes in your vision.

You don’t have to go it alone. Staying connected socially and speaking with others who get it can go a long way. You may also work with specialists who can help you learn to manage the condition symptoms you’re dealing with along with your mental health.