Diabetic retinopathy is a preventable cause of blindness
DIABETES AFFECTS very small blood vessels in the eyes. This affects the circulation of the eye and poor circulation can lead to visual problems. When diabetes affects the back layer of the eye (the retina) it is called diabetic retinopathy. This is a cause of poor vision or blindness and is usually due to poor sugar control and is worsened if the patient has hypertension or high cholesterol (high fat content in the blood).
Diabetic retinopathy affects the eyes by causing floaters (because of bleeding in the eye) or blurred vision from leakage of blood vessels in the central area of the retina (the macula). Cataracts and glaucoma are more commonly seen in diabetic patients.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs due to uncontrolled diabetes and is PREVENTABLE.
All Type 2 diabetic patients (non-insulin dependent, usually adults) must have a dilated eye examination at least once a year by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) – a diabetic retinopathy screening (DRS)
Type 1 diabetic patients (insulin dependent, usually children) must have DRS done by the fifth year of their diagnosis.
Patients with early diabetic retinopathy are asymptomatic (no visual complaints)
If left undiagnosed, it will lead to blindness. It is important to detect it early.
Diabetic patients are at risk of serious visual impairment if their eyes are not screened
Screening with a dilated eye examination can pick up problems in the eye (retina) early and treatment can be done BEFORE vision is lost.
After vision is lost, it
may not be possible to get it back again.
Treatment may involve laser treatment, special injections or in very complex cases, retinal surgery. Good control of the diabetes is essential for the treatment to be effective.
Early treatment can save vision. However, in advanced disease, surgery may only stop the problem from getting worse (stabilise it) as the disease has already caused significant permanent damage to the eyesight.
What can you do?
All newly diagnosed diabetic patients (Type 2/adult onset) and those who have not had an eye examination in the past year should be seen by an eye doctor for screening. After the initial screening, you will need to be seen by your eye doctor, at least once a year for a dilated eye examination or sooner if problems are found.
Diabetic retinopathy screening, early diagnosis and treatment is essential and can prevent visual loss. If you are a diabetic, you must see your ophthalmologist at least once a year for a dilated eye examination, a glasses test alone is not adequate.
Good glucose control is essential to prevent diabetic retinopathy.
MEDICS are six checklist points to remember to control your diabetes.
1) Medication: Be compliant with your medications; take them daily and on time.
2) Exercise: At least 30 minutes a day, three times a week – walking, dancing, cycling, etc.
3) Diet: Watch your sugar (carbohydrate) intake, eat lots of vegetables. 4) Avoid smoking. 5) Compliance: Regular visits to your doctor and eye doctor.
6) Self-monitoring of blood glucose (must check your fasting and two hours after a meal).
Dr Lizette Mowatt
Retina with diabetic changes (Diabetic retinopathy)