Blindsided by Diabetes

  • September 1, 2023
  • 1 minute read

Did you know that diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults?

One major eye problem in people with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when diabetes weakens or damages blood vessels in the eye. Particularly susceptible are those who have had diabetes for many years, have poor diabetes control and high blood pressure, or have had previous stroke and heart disease incidence.

If your blood glucose level has stayed too high for too long, it can block off the small blood vessels that keep the retina healthy. Your eye will try to grow new blood vessels, but they will not develop well. They start to weaken, and blood and fluid may leak into your retina, causing nerve fibres in the retina to swell. Sometimes, the central part of the retina (macula) begins to swell, resulting in the blurring of vision.

As the condition worsens, more blood vessels become blocked and closed off, causing the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the retina (proliferative diabetic retinopathy). When this happens, scar tissue may build up as new blood vessels grow in the eye. This extra pressure can cause one’s retina to detach. It can also lead to glaucoma and other problems that may result in blindness.

Macula oedema, or proliferative diabetic retinopathy, can be treated using anti-VEGF injection or retinal laser treatment. The injection or laser stops new vessels from leaking and growing. Although the treatment procedures cannot restore lost vision in some cases, it can – combined with follow-up care – reduce one’s chances of blindness by as much as 90%.

In the late stages of the disease, if the retina has become detached, or a lot of blood has leaked into the eye, your doctor may suggest a vitrectomy. This is a surgery to remove scar tissue, blood, and cloudy fluid from inside the eye.

Keeping one’s blood sugar and blood pressure under control will help to slow down diabetic retinopathy, and may even prevent it. It also helps if one quits smoking.

For people with diabetes, it is important to get an annual dilated eye examination to spot early signs of the disease. Pregnant women with diabetes are also advised to go for a comprehensive eye examination during the first trimester, and follow up with an ophthalmologist throughout the pregnancy.

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