People who have long-term or uncontrolled diabetes are at increased risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. It is one of the most common causes of visual loss around the world and the primary cause of vision loss in people between 20-74 years of age. High levels of glucose (sugar), damage the small blood vessels of the retina which leads to blurry vision and vision loss.
The vast majority of patients who develop diabetic retinopathy are asymptomatic until the disease has progressed to advanced stages. The retina has to be severely damaged for the patient to notice any changes in vision. At that stage, it is usually very difficult to stop the progression of this disease.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
•Blurred vision or slow vision loss over time
•Shadows or missing areas of vision
•Trouble seeing at night
Due to the fast progression of this disease, early detection is crucial to minimize the risk of vision loss. It is recommended that every person diagnosed with diabetes gets an annual retinal eye examination. This test is performed by an ophthalmologist or technician with a specialized camera that takes photos of the back of your eye (retina).
To prevent the progression of diabetic retinopathy, sugar levels should be controlled. High blood sugar can also cause blurred vision not related to retinopathy. Having too much glucose and water in the lens of the eye (in front of the retina) can cause blurred vision as well. It is imperative that all patients diagnosed with diabetes take their medications as prescribed and do not stop them at any moment, unless indicated by the healthcare provider. A healthy diet, exercise and taking medications as prescribed will help getting blood sugar levels controlled. The medications for diabetes, including insulin, do not cause vision loss, on the contrary, they will help prevent it.
If a diabetic patient is diagnosed with hypertension as well, good control of blood pressure will also prevent the progression of diabetic neuropathy. For diabetic patients, the goal of the blood pressure should be less than 140/90 mmHg. Blood pressure should be checked regularly, and it is helpful to keep a daily log of your BP readings so your healthcare provider can give you the most appropriate treatment for your case. If you take medicines to control your blood pressure, take them as your healthcare provider instructs.
Smoking also contributes to the progression of diabetic retinopathy. If you need help quitting, ask your healthcare provider about treatment options.
Vascular complications from Diabetes are also the cause of many amputations each year. However, diabetic patients that achieve a good control of their blood pressure, glucose, weight and quit smoking have a better chance of avoiding any complication.
Blindness and amputation are therefore preventable and the vast majority of people with diabetes will be able to avoid these complications if they are compliant with their periodic diabetic health checks and screenings such as the annual retina exam.