Patients with diabetes have special concerns when it comes to eye health and good vision. Diabetics have an imbalance whereby there is an excess of blood sugar, which can cause a problem known as diabetic retinopathy.
The word “retinopathy” is a reference to the retina, the area at the back of the eye which is made of delicate layers of tissue and is rich in blood vessels. The excess sugar in the blood of someone with diabetes can result in damage to these blood vessels, so the body’s response is to create new ones. However, these new blood vessels may be incomplete or not strong enough, such that they may allow blood to seep into the retina.
Who develops diabetic retinopathy?
Not everyone with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy, especially if the blood sugar is being well managed through diet, exercise, and insulin if necessary. Generally speaking, the longer someone has been living with diabetes, the greater the risk of developing retinopathy. Poor control of blood sugars can increase the risk even more. Sometimes, patients who don’t have diabetes can be prone to retinopathy, particularly women who are pregnant, those who use tobacco or alcohol, and patients with high blood sugar or high cholesterol.
How can I tell if I have diabetic retinopathy?
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are minor at first, but the condition can eventually lead to serious sight loss. Therefore, it’s recommended that patients with diabetes have their eyes checked regularly, even if they’re not having any problems with their sight.
Between eye check-ups, it’s essential to remain vigilant about any changes in your vision. If you see floaters (which are visual disturbances that look like bits of string or debris) or dark spots, if you have blurry vision, or if you notice a change in the way you see colours, you should talk to your physician or eye doctor right away. Remember – early detection and treatment can cut the risk of total vision loss by 95%.
What will happen at my eye examination?
The doctor will need to look into the back of your eye, where the retina is located, to look for any swelling, bleeding, or signs that new blood vessels may be growing. In order to do this, you will most likely have your pupils dilated (this is done with eye drops that can temporarily blur your vision, so be sure to arrange for a ride home as you should not drive until the drops wear off). There is another way to test for unusual bleeding in the blood vessels, a dye is injected into your arm, so the doctor can track the dye as it moves through the retina. This is known as a ‘fluorescein angiography’. It also involves pupil dilation, so again – plan accordingly.
How is diabetic retinopathy treated?
The best treatment is actually prevention. Keeping your diabetes under control significantly slows the onset of retinopathy and can help prevent it from getting worse. There are several courses of treatment for the condition as well, including injections to help stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, laser surgery, or corticosteroids. Early detection, prompt treatment, and proper follow-up care are all important elements of successfully fighting against the loss of vision caused by diabetic retinopathy.
This blog post is offered by Moorfields optometrist Abu Dhabi.