Diabetes and the Eye
Diabetes also known as diabetes mellitus is a condition which can be split into main two types one in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin if any at all (type 1 diabetes) or alternatively not enough insulin is being produced or the body creates a resistance to the insulin that is produced (type 2 diabetes). The latter being the most commonly encountered. Diabetes can also sometimes occur during pregnancy and this is known gestational diabetes, in which higher than normal blood sugar levels occur.
Diabetes is known to affect your eyes in various different ways.
- – Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition in which damage occurs at the back of the eye known as the retina, affecting the network of blood vessels. It is one of the serious ways diabetes can affect your eyes and can prove to be sight threatening especially if left untreated or undiagnosed. There are various different levels of diabetic retinopathy depending on the extent of the damage encountered. Fundamentally it is important for all diabetics to have the retina checked and monitored annually (or as suggested by your healthcare professional) during a diabetic retinopathy screening which can be arranged by your general practitioner.
- – The lens inside your eye can also result in changes if blood sugar levels are uncontrolled. This can cause blurring of vision which may be temporary. It is advisable to not purchase a pair of spectacles when blood sugar levels are uncontrolled, as spectacle prescription has the tendency to fluctuate and as a result vision may continue to change, it is recommended to wait until things stabilise.
- – A cataract (clouding of the lens) could also form due to long term diabetes. However, not everyone who has diabetes develops an eye complication, of those that do, many people only have a very mild form of diabetic retinopathy which may never progress to a sight threatening condition.
- – Diabetes and pregnancy If you have diabetes and plan to have a child, your GP will discuss with you how to manage the pregnancy. If you are diabetic prior to becoming pregnant you will have diabetic retinal screening carried out more often to ensure there are no retinal changes at the back of the eye. If on the other hand you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy as discussed earlier whereby the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the levels required, are not are risk of diabetic retinopathy hence no screening is required however are at a greater risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes in the future.
Reducing the risk
There are risk factors you cannot control and those you can control for deploying diabetic retinopathy.
Risk factors that you cannot control may include:
- The duration you have had diabetes.
- The type of diabetea
- Your age which affects progression of diabetic retinopathy
- Your ethnicity for example people from Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to name a few are more at risk of developing diabetes.
Risk factors you can control to reduce your risk or prevent progression:
- Controlling blood sugar (glucose levels) and blood pressure
- Weight control – a large majority of those who have diabetes are overweight.
- Increase exercise -research has shown regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
- Stop smoking – smoking has been proven to increase blood pressure levels which in turn can cause diabetes
- Regular diabetic retinopathy screening – one if the most effective screening diabetic patients can do is to attend their retinal screenings as early detection and treatment can prevent sight loss. Early diagnosis can lead to better prognosis so it is crucial to attend your regular eye examinations and have regular eye health checks (this doesn’t not replace a retinal screening programme), as this will provide you with much more information than just your spectacle prescription. It has been shown through research that retinopathy if identified early can prevent blindness.
Important points to remember:
- – Attend your diabetic clinic or GP surgery for regular diabetes health checks, including blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring.
- – Good control of sugar, blood pressure and regular exercise will reduce your risk of diabetes.
- – Speak to your diabetic eye clinic if you notice changes in your vision.
- – Don’t wait until your vision has deteriorated to have an eye test.
- – Attend your regular eye examinations and annual diabetic retinopathy screenings, as early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy is vital.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.