Diabetes has become one the biggest public health issues of our times. While some of its causes and effects are well publicised, its effect on eyesight is less widely known – as is the fact that an eye check with an optometrist can uncover a diagnosis. It’s not uncommon to have a diabetes-related eye illness and not even know it, and according to new research by American Optometric Association, that’s a possibility 79 per cent of people are not aware of.
Diabetes can affect many parts of the eyes in a number of ways, with symptoms increasing in severity as the illness progresses. Problems with vision can occur (blurring, fluctuation, double vision), and it’s believed diabetes may also contribute to cataracts and glaucoma. However, the most debilitating impact the disease can have on the eyes is diabetic retinopathy. And it is not uncommon. Eighty per cent of people who have lived with diabetes for 20 years or more are affected.
Diabetes is a metabolic condition characterised by the body’s failure to produce enough insulin, in some cases none at all, or it being simply unable to use it efficiently. Insulin breaks down sugars into glucose so they can be used and distributed throughout the body. When insulin is lacking, sugar builds up in the blood (hyperglycaemia), which can lead to diabetic retinopathy.
The high sugar content in the blood damages blood vessels in the retina, causing them to rupture and bleed. The retina swells and new blood vessels form, damaging the retina and resulting in the appearance of spots.
As the condition progresses, vision becomes blurred (often an early-reported symptom of diabetes), and if left unchecked, can result in total blindness.
In its earliest stages – called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) – there are no visible symptoms however, a fact most people are not aware of.
And with the rates of diabetes-related eye disease tipped to increase by 35 per cent over the next 15 years, clearly it is crucial for people who have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes to seek regular eye checks beyond the standard once every two years. An Australian study concluded that the effects of 90 per cent of new cases could be reduced with proper monitoring of the eyes.
According to the AOA’s American Eye-Q Survey shared this month (November 2017), optometrists spotted diabetes-related markers in more than 320,000 U.S. patients, who were previously unaware they had diabetes. So, for people without diabetes, the take-home message here is that having a comprehensive eye examination every two years could pick up your diabetes early, potentially saving your eyesight – or your life.
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