Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damaging the network of tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the cells at the back of the eye, known as the retina. If it is not treated, it can lead to blindness.
Therefore, it is important for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels under control. Everyone with diabetes who is 12 years old or over should have their eyes examined once a year for signs of damage.
HOW DIABETES CAN DAMAGE THE RETINA
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye. It converts light into electrical signals. The signals are sent to the brain through the optic nerve and the brain interprets them to produce the images that you see. To work effectively, the retina needs a constant supply of blood, which it receives through a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, a continuously high blood sugar level can cause the blood vessels to become blocked or to leak. This damages the retina and stops it from working.
SYMPTOMS OF DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
During the initial stages, retinopathy does not cause any noticeable symptoms. One may not realize that the retina is damaged until the later stages, when the vision becomes affected and has reached an advanced stage.
Possible symptoms of late-stage retinopathy include:
- shapes floating in field of vision (floaters)
- blurred vision
- reduced night vision
- sudden blindness
SCREENING FOR DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
As retinopathy can cause blindness, it is very important that it is identified and treated as early as possible.
The aim of screening is to reduce the risk of vision loss in people with diabetes. This is done by identifying retinopathy at an early stage and, if necessary, ensuring that appropriate treatment is given.
Annual screening should be recommended.
TREATING DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
Treatment for retinopathy will depend on the stage the condition has reached.
For example, if retinopathy is identified in its early stages, it may be possible to treat it by controlling diabetes more effectively.
If in case of advanced retinopathy, one may need to have laser surgery to prevent further damage to the eyes.
PREVENTING DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
To reduce risk of developing retinopathy, it is important to control blood sugar level and keep blood pressure as close to normal as possible.
Other steps to be taken to help prevent retinopathy include:
- Annual screening
- Consulting an Ophthalmologist if there are any changes to vision
- Taking your medication as prescribed
- If overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding or giving up smoking
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
Diabetic patients are 20 times more likely to develop vision problems than the rest of the population. It is vital for diabetics to take any problems with eyes seriously.