Why is it important to look after your eyes in diabetes?
People with diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing a number of complications related to their eyes and vision. High blood glucose levels or poor control will increase the risk. Trials have shown that good glycaemic control and regular eye screening can prevent or delay many complications related to diabetic eye disease. Your eyes can be badly damaged before you notice any change in vision therefore screening should occur at least once a year or more frequently if problems are detected.
In addition to poor glucose control, elevated blood pressure and/or cholesterol as well as kidney disease may place a person at a greater risk of developing eye disease. The longer the duration of diabetes, the greater the risk also. Pregnancy can also be a tricky time so if you are planning a pregnancy, please seek medical advice and have your eyes screened prior to conception.
What sort of changes occur with diabetes?
Doctors tend to categorise diabetic eye disease into diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy.
- “Retinopathy” is a general term for all disorders of the retina (the back of the eye where all the blood vessels are located) caused by diabetes. Changes often occur in the retina PRIOR to any effect on vision taking place therefore regular screening becomes extremely important in preventing further damage.
- “Maculopathy” refers to a leak into the centre of the macula (the area of the eye where colourful, sharp, straight-ahead vision occurs). The fluid makes the macula swell and blurs the vision. This can occur independantly of retinopathy.
Checking your visual acuity (near and far distance vision) and whether you require glasses or not is also important but often these changes are more age-related than they are to diabetes. Just because the lens of your eye are intact and reflecting light adequately (the windows are clear), t doesn’t mean that more complex changes in the back of the eye are not present.
What screening is necessary?
The Ophthalmology Society of South Africa (OSSA) recommends that those with diabetes are screened at least once a year. They require some background information on your diabetes from your doctor and will then provide a comprehensive report on your risk level and current clinical status. The screening test will also be able to indicate how often further follow-up is recommended.
Please don’t put off these tests because you can “see okay” or “just got new glasses last month”! Diabetic eye disease is preventable and treatable if detected early. There is no need to lose your vision in diabetes!!!