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DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
DIABETIC RETINOPATHY

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus or "sugar diabetes" affects about one person in fifty in the UK. This means that the body cannot cope normally with sugar and other carbohydrates in the diet.  Diabetes can start in childhood, but is often begins later in life. It can cause complications, which affect different parts of the body. There are two types of diabetes mellitus - one is controlled by insulin injections and the other by diet or tablets, but they both affect the eyes in the same way.  If you have diabetes this does not necessarily mean that your sight will be affected, but there is a higher risk. If your diabetes is well controlled then you are less likely to have problems, or they may be less serious. However if there are complications which affect the eyes then this can result in loss of sight.


Why regular eye tests are important

Most sight loss from diabetic retinopathy can be prevented. But it is vital that it is diagnosed early. You may not realise that there is anything wrong with your eyesight, and so regular eye checks are extremely important.

How can diabetes affect the eye? Your eye has a lens and an aperture (opening) at the front, which adjust to bring objects into focus on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is made up of a delicate tissue that is sensitive to light, rather like the film in a camera.

At the centre of the retina is the macula, which is a small area about the size of a pinhead. This is the most highly specialised part of the retina and it is vital because it enables you to see fine detail and read small print. The other parts of the retina give you side vision (peripheral vision). Filling the cavity of the eye in front of the retina is a clear jelly-like substance called the vitreous humour.

Diabetes can affect the eye in a number of ways. These usually involve the fine network of blood vessels in the retina - hence the term diabetic retinopathy.


Temporary blurring

Your vision may become blurred for a few days or weeks while your diabetes is first being controlled. This is due to the swelling of the lens of the eye and will soon clear without treatment soon after the diabetes is controlled.  

 

The importance of early treatment

Although your vision may be good, changes can be taking place to your retina that need treatment. Because most sight loss in diabetes is preventable:

·        early diagnosis is vital

·        have an eye examination every year

·        do not wait until your vision has deteriorated to have an eye test.

Your family doctor, diabetologist or optometrist can examine for diabetic retinopathy. Photographs are sometimes used to detect abnormalities without any other form of test. If a problem is found you will be referred to a consultant ophthalmologist (a doctor specialising in eyes) at a hospital eye clinic.  Remember, however, that if your vision is getting worse, this does not necessarily mean you have diabetic retinopathy. It may simply be a problem that can be corrected by glasses.


What is the treatment?

Most sight-threatening diabetic problems can be prevented by laser treatment if it is given early enough. It is important to realise however that laser treatment aims to save the sight you have - not to make it better. The laser, a beam of high intensity light, can be focused with extreme precision. So the blood vessels that are leaking fluid into the retina can be sealed.  If new blood vessels are growing, more extensive laser treatment has to be carried out. In eight out of ten cases laser treatment causes the new blood vessels to disappear.


Further help and information:

British Diabetic Association,
10 Queen Anne Street,
London
W1M 0BD
Telephone: 020 7323 1531

This information has been reproduced with the kind permission of the RNIB and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.