Millions of people around the world need glasses or contact lenses to correct their vision, but some people"s eye health problems run much deeper. Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness across the globe. The condition occurs when blood vessels around the retina are damaged or clogged by the high blood sugar which results from diabetes.
Global health data suggests diabetic retinopathy is responsible for around five per cent of the world"s total blindness. The condition affects both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients and the risk of developing it increases with the duration of the disease. Within 20 years of diabetes being identified, more than three-quarters of patients have developed some form of retinopathy.
Regardless of whether they already wear glasses or contact lenses, anyone with diabetes should keep their eye health in mind at every stage of their life. Patients are urged by ophthalmic experts not to wait for symptoms to emerge, because in many cases there are no clear symptoms. Possible signs can include dark spots moving in the vision, blurry eyesight and difficulty seeing at night.
"The above symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have diabetic retinopathy, but you need to see an eye specialist if you experience any of these," advised Dr Shalini Shetty, writing for India Infoline News. When a person with diabetes visits their eyecare practicitioner, they are likely to undergo a series of varied tests. These will allow the specialist to examine the retina and measure intraocular pressure.
In terms of prevention and treatment, when it comes to diabetic retinopathy, patient awareness is arguably the most important factor. "Everybody with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Hence, everybody with diabetes should have a detailed dilated eye examination at least once a year," said Dr Shetty.
Furthermore, people with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts and glaucoma. Luckily, there are certain measures they can take to help minimise the risk of such problems, as Dr Shetty went on to explain. "Studies have shown that long-term good control of the diabetes reduces the risk of developing retinopathy. Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly and keeping them under control would [also] reduce the progression of retinopathy."
The expert also urged smokers to kick their habit, as it may exacerbate the risk of developing a number of serious conditions. This is good advice not only for diabetics but for everyone, regardless of whether they need glasses or contact lenses, because smoking has a widespread impact on physical health, in the eyes and all other major organs.
Treatments for diabetic retinopathy do exist, but are restricted by the limited scientific knowledge in this area. The ultimate goal scientists are working towards is to prevent vision loss altogether, but this may be a way off. As it stands, the success rate of treatment for retinopathy depends mainly on the stage of the disease. While early-stage cases do not usually require any action, regular eye checks are vital to ensure any progression is detected.
With millions of people across the globe suffering with diabetes, it is essential that people are aware of the additional health risks the disease can present. As science advances and new treatments are developed, a cure for diabetic retinopathy could be on the horizon but until then patients must need to know what to look for and where they can turn for help.
by Adrian Galbreth