Diabetic Eye Disease and Retinopathy

January 9, 2020by Mamta Kothiwale

About 422 Million people suffer from Diabetes and it remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. However, a diagnosis of Diabetes for yourself or a loved one isn’t a death sentence. Early detection and intervention can help manage the condition. This includes not just keeping blood sugar in check, but also keeping yourself informed and checked for various complications that diabetes can bring with it. If left untreated, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage nerves, eyes, kidneys, and other organs. 

One of the common complications of diabetes is a group of eye issues, collectively called Diabetic eye disease. These include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma. According to International Diabetes Federation, “Approximately one in three people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy and one in ten will develop a vision-threatening form of the disease.”

How do you know if Diabetes is affecting your eyes?

While in the short term, a person is not likely to have vision loss from high blood glucose, when the blood glucose levels stay high over a period of time, such as in the case of untreated diabetes, it can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, causing leaking of fluid or growth of new weak blood vessels that bleed into the middle of the eye. This in turn can cause dangerously high pressure inside the eyes. 

What are Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms?

If you are a diabetic and notice the following symptoms, it is time to see a doctor:

  • Blurry vision
  • Wavy vision
  • Frequently changing eyesight
  • Dark areas or vision loss
  • Poor color vision
  • Floaters (appearance of spots or dark strings) in your vision
  • Flashes of light

These symptoms could be a sign of:

  • Macular edema, where Macula, which is part of the retina, swells due to leaking of fluid 
  • Proliferative retinopathy which occurs when blood vessels leak into the center of your eye
  • Blurry vision can also be a symptom of Glaucoma, a disease where blockage of fluid from draining out of the eye increases eye pressure, thus causing damage to the optic nerve
  • Cataracts – Diabetics tend to develop cataracts at a younger age 

Is Diabetic Eye Disease reversible?

According to the World Health Organization , 2.6% of global blindness can be attributed to diabetes. Unfortunately, the damage caused by changes in the blood vessels, leakage, and oxygen deprivation is permanent. However, there are some treatments that can help slow down the progression of symptoms. While not a reversible condition, with timely checkups and treatment, this is a preventable disease

 Is Diabetic Retinopathy Preventable?

According to The National Eye Institute in the US, early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness related to diabetic retinopathy by as much as 95%. Since diabetics may not have eye problems early on, it is important to have a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. If and when diagnosed with early stages of diabetic retinopathy, one should get an eye exam more often. Pregnant women who have diabetes should also have an eye exam as soon as possible.

Maintaining an active lifestyle, regular checks and timely medications are the best way to keep all diabetes complications, including eye diseases at bay. To stay on top of your condition, manage your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Quitting smoking and getting routine and regular eye exams is also a great way to keep diabetes-related eye diseases away.