Diabetic Eye Disease

It may come as some surprise but diabetes is now the most common cause of blindness amongst the working-age population in Western Europe. There are several ways in which diabetes can affect the eyes, most commonly a temporary blurring of the vision before diagnosis; this tends to be a result of uncontrolled blood sugar level. Once the condition has been diagnosed and the appropriate treatment administered, this blurring tends to resolve and vision returns to normal. This short-term change in vision can also be a good indicator to diabetics that their blood sugar is not being properly controlled.
However, diabetes can remain without visual symptoms for a long time and in these cases unseen damage can occur due to leaking blood vessels both in the eyes and elsewhere in the body. Should such damage occur in the eyes it is termed diabetic retinopathy – this is damage to the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye (the retina). The problems occur when the fine blood vessels in the retina start to leak and disrupt the blood supply around the retina. To prevent this loss of supply, new vessels are formed but these vessels tend to be weak and easily damaged causing further leakage and eventually scar tissue formation. As a result the retina of the eye is permanently damaged causing loss of vision.
Significant diabetic retinopathy of this nature can be prevented in most cases with careful diet and medicated control. In those cases where damage has already occurred, the new blood vessels can be sealed via laser treatment. This is designed to save the remaining sight but will not improve on what has been lost. It has been estimated that up to 95% of those with significant diabetic retinopathy can avoid substantial visual loss if treated in time. The best way to attempt to avoid diabetic eye disease is to maintain blood sugar levels as advised by your doctor and attend for regular check-ups. It is also recommended that you see your optician at least annually for a dilated eye examination or retinal photograph.