Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or the body is unable to process it properly. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Diabetes can affect children and adults.
How does diabetes affect the retina?
Patients with diabetes are more likely to develop eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma, but the disease’s effect on the retina is the main threat to vision. Most patients develop diabetic changes in the retina after approximately 20 years. The effect of diabetes on the eye is called diabetic retinopathy.
Over time, diabetes affects the circulatory system of the retina. The earliest phase of the disease is known as background diabetic retinopathy. In this phase, the arteries in the retina become weakened and leak, forming small, dot-like haemorrhages. These leaking vessels often lead to swelling or oedema in the retina and decreased vision.
The next stage is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, circulation problems cause areas of the retina to become oxygen-deprived or ischaemic. New, fragile, vessels develop as the circulatory system attempts to maintain adequate oxygen levels within the retina. This is called neovascularization. Unfortunately, these delicate vessels haemorrhage easily. Blood may leak into the retina and vitreous, causing spots or floaters, along with decreased vision.
In the later phases of the disease, continued abnormal vessel growth and scar tissue may cause serious problems such as retinal detachment and
Signs and Symptoms
The effect of diabetic retinopathy on vision varies widely, depending on the stage of the disease. Some common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are listed below, however, diabetes may cause other eye symptoms.
- Blurred vision (this is often linked to blood sugar levels)
- Floaters and flashes
- Sudden loss of vision
Detection and Diagnosis
Diabetic patients require routine eye examinations so related eye problems can be detected and treated as early as possible.
Researchers have found that diabetic patients who are able to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels have fewer eye problems than those with poor control. Diet and exercise play important roles in the overall health of those with diabetes.
Diabetics can also greatly reduce the possibilities of eye complications by scheduling routine examinations with an eye care practitioner. Many problems can be treated with much greater success when detected early.