Can diabetes make you blind?
When does one need to see an ophthalmologist (eye specialist)? A definite sign will be when there is acute blurring of vision. Patients who suddenly cannot see should seek help immediately, either with an ophthalmologist or General Practitioner (GP)/optometrist. In the latter cases, the GP/optometrist will make the proper judgement to refer immediately to a specialist. An annual eye screening by a specialist is necessary, for all diabetics.
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Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in working adults. This eye condition is part of a range of complications from diabetes, a disease in which sugar or glucose levels in the blood are high.
Too much blood glucose will damage many organs, including the eye – in particular, the retina. This light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye sends signals to your brain.
By blocking the tiny blood vessels of the retina from the high sugar levels, the retina will leak fluid and blood, a condition known as non -proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR).
New abnormal blood vessels can also grow due to the blockage, leading to more leakage and bleeding, a condition known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).
With time, these blood vessels can scar and pull on the retina, causing retinal detachment and blindness. When these new blood vessels grow on the iris, this increases the eye pressure, a condition known as glaucoma which can also be potentially blinding.
However, when the swelling and bleeding occurs in the macula which is the center of the retina, vision can also be affected.
The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the longer the duration of diabetes. But this can be reduced by controlling diabetes.
How can I diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy?
Regular eye checks are important for all diabetics, even those with good sugar levels. In the early stages of diabetes, the patient is usually not symptomatic unless the patient goes for regular eye screening.
The examination involves testing the vision and eye pressure measurement. The iris and retina will also be checked for abnormal vessels.
Often, once the symptoms appear, the diabetic retinopathy can be in the late stages or complicated with other conditions like cataract or glaucoma. At this stage, treatment is still possible but recovery may be limited.
This article was contributed by Dr Jacob Cheng Yen Chuan, Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist & Director of Retina Services and Vitreoretinal Surgery, Eagle Eye Centre in Mount Alvernia Hospital (Singapore).