Eye disease (retinopathy) A possible complication of diabetes, known as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy generally has no early warning signs and may surface suddenly. Sometimes, the person affected will have blurred vision, which deteriorates and improves during the course of a day. “Retinopathy” is medical term describing the damage to the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish the retina. The retina is located at the back of the eye and it captures light and relays the information to the brain. The tiny blood vessels are adversely affected by high blood sugar associated with diabetes. In severe cases, blood vessels may bleed causing haemorrhage, and vision may become blurred. Tiny specks of blood, called “floaters”, will be floating in the affected person’s vision field, and may disappear sometimes. However, they may be followed by greater leakage of blood, and they may clear soon or may not clear even for days and months, and may require treatment and control of diabetes to reduce their impact on the vision.
Signs and symptoms As already indicated, at an early stage, diabetic retinopathy can not be noticed though the deterioration may be taking place. At its early stage, vision continues to be normal without manifestation of any sign or symptom while the complication continues to advanced stage. Some signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopath include:
- Dark streaks or red films blocking the vision
- Blurred vision
- A dark or vacant spot in the center of vision
- Tiny specks floating in the vision – looks like spiders or cobwebs sometimes
- Difficulty in adjusting from dim light to dark light and vice versa
- Difficulty in seeing during night
Risk factors Persons with diabetes have a higher risk of retinopathy irrespective of the type of diabetes, type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. The risk increases longer a person has diabetes. There are also few other contributing factors which increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Some of these factors include poorly controlled levels of blood sugar, untreated high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and pregnancy.
Complications In certain cases of diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels on the retina are damaged, and the retina manufactures new blood vessels which are abnormal. The new blood vessels do not supply the retina normal blood and generate other complications.
Preventing diabetic retinopathy To reduce your risk of developing retinopathy, it’s important to control your blood sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol level. Good control will prevent diabetic complications in almost everyone. Read more about preventing diabetic retinopathy. Other steps that you can take to help prevent retinopathy include:
- Attending your annual screening appointment
- Informing your GP if you notice any changes to your vision (do not wait until your next screening appointment)
- Taking your medication as prescribed
- Losing weight (if you’re overweight) and eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Giving up smoking
- Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
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, you can prevent it from getting worse just by controlling your diabetes. If you have more advanced retinopathy, you may need to have laser surgery or injection therapy to prevent further damage to your eyes.
Further information Nhs – www.nhs.uk/diabetic-retinopathy Diabetes UK – www.diabetes.org.uk/eye-problems U.S Department of health – www.niddk.nih.gov/eye-problems Contact your local GP for further help and information