This month, World Diabetes day (14th November) aims to promote diabetes education and prevention.
Diabetes is now a truly worldwide epidemic. In the UK alone, over 3 million people have the disease with figures expected to reach 5 million by 2025. Diabetes can have serious implications for your eyesight and, indeed, is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age. However, by taking good care of your health and your eyes, most sight loss from diabetes is preventable and treatable.
The main threat to sight is caused by a condition called diabetic retinopathy. High sugar levels damage and weaken the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of your eyes. This causes haemorrhages and fluid leaks into the retina. In advanced cases, severe bleeding causes scar tissue to form. This can pull and distort the retina leading to retinal detachment.
If retinopathy is caught in good time laser treatment is usually very effective at preventing vision loss. Also, intra-vitreal injections - currently used to treat wet macular degeneration - have shown promising results for some types of diabetic retinopathy.
Cataracts and Glaucoma
Having diabetes also increases your risk of developing other eye diseases. For example, with diabetes you are 40 % more likely to develop glaucoma. You are also 60% more likely to develop cataracts. Furthermore, people with diabetes tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster.
There are important steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing eye problems through diabetes:
1) Control your blood sugars
Having well-controlled blood sugar levels delays the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy. It is therefore very important to monitor your sugar levels on a daily basis.
2) Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol
Tight control of blood pressure and cholesterol also decreases your chances of developing severe retinopathy and other eye complications.
3) Maintain a healthy diet & exercise regularly
Exercise and a healthy diet help keep blood sugar fluctuations to a minimum, as well as benefitting blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
4) Attend a Screening Programme
Under the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme, all diabetic patients aged over 12 are invited to attend their GP surgery once a year for retinal photography. Careful analysis of the images obtained is an invaluable aid to early detection and treatment of retinopathy.
5) Have regular eye examinations
It is also very important to have your eyes regularly tested by an optometrist. As well as monitoring your eyes for diabetic retinopathy, your optometrist carefully checks for signs of other eye complications, such as cataracts and glaucoma. Remember, all diabetics are entitled to free eye tests once a year under the NHS.