Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot produce sufficient insulin to control blood sugar levels, leading to health complications.
Type 1 diabetes usually occurs before the age of thirty and means that the body cannot produce any insulin and is treated with insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes is also known as late onset diabetes as it mostly affects people over the age of 40, and is due to insufficient quantities of insulin in the body. It can be kept under control through diet, exercise and occasionally tablets.
You may be asking yourself “If diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, what’s it got to do with my eye sight?” The answer is a lot. Diabetes sufferers are at higher risk of contracting cataracts, blurred vision and diabetic retinopathy. These can all potentially lead to blindness if untreated, but easy to treat if diagnosed early enough, which means it is very important to attend your yearly eye examinations.
Blurred vision and cataracts as symptoms of diabetes
Blurred vision is usually only temporary and may be one of the first symptoms of diabetes, but may also occur at any time if your diabetes is not kept under control. This causes the lens to swell, resulting in the blurred vision. When your diabetes is brought back under control using controlled diet and a healthy lifestyle, the blurring will go away, and your eyesight shouldn’t require other treatment.
Clouding of the lens, also known as a cataract, is usually associated with older people, but diabetics are prone to them at an earlier age.
This clouding prevents light reaching the retina in the back of the eye, causing vision to become blurred or dim. Cataracts are treated by removing the clouded lens and replacing it with a plastic one, allowing the eye to function normally again.
Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina’s blood vessels caused by diabetes. It is graded depending on its severity, and if left untreated can lead to loss of sight.
The first stage is background retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the retina swell and may haemorrhage or leak fluid. This does not affect your eyesight, or the macula region of your eye (used for fine detail focus). However, this needs to be carefully tracked by an eye health professional.
Maculopathy occurs when the macula region of the retina is affected by background retinopathy, and your ability to see fine detail (such as objects in the distance or small print on a screen) is affected. Your peripheral vision is maintained, and it is rare for someone with maculopathy to lose all vision.
Proliferative retinopathy is the formation of new blood vessels to replace those damaged by background retinopathy. These new vessels grow over the retina and into the vitreous gel, causing retinal detachment, as scar tissue forms and distorts the retina. This is very rare, but loss of sight is sudden and serious, usually caused by the bleeding of the new blood vessels and retinal detachment.
Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy, in which the leaking blood vessels are sealed, or in proliferative retinopathy, some may be killed off by the laser. Laser therapy does not improve your eyesight, it can only preserve it.
The earlier retinopathy is diagnosed and treated, the better your quality of sight that can be preserved, meaning it is important for you to make and attend annual eye examinations.
Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy
Controlling blood sugar levels, blood sugar and cholesterol using diet and healthy lifestyle choices prescribed and overlooked by a doctor.
Make sure you attend annual eye screenings. These are available to everyone diagnosed with diabetes aged 12 and over in the UK so eye problems are picked up on quickly.