As diabetic retinopathy can have no symptoms initially, it is important to have your eyes checked annually if you are diabetic. Good vision can be maintained if retinopathy is detected and treated early before permanent damage has occurred.
The retina is the layer that lines the inside of the back of the eye. The function of the retina is very much like the film in a camera. It contains millions of light-sensing cells that detect the images we see.
Diabetes can cause damage to the retina, causing loss of vision due to swelling of the retina, insufficient blood supply to the retina cells, bleeding inside the eye or scarring and detachment of the retina.
80% of people with longstanding
diabetes will develop
diabetic retinopathy. If you
have diabetes, have your eyes
*Based on a 2001 study by Singapore Eye
Diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the retina over time. The small blood vessels can leak, causing swelling of the retina.
They can also become blocked, causing the retina to react by trying to grow new blood vessels. These abnormal and fragile new vessels bleed into the cavity of the eye. Scars can form from these new vessels which then pull on the retina and cause it to detach. All these can lead to severe and permanent vision loss.
Patients usually have no symptoms, i.e. vision is perfectly normal, in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Once vision is affected, the diabetic retinopathy is usually severe.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the duration of diabetes. Important risk factors that worsen diabetic retinopathy include :
If you have diabetes you should control your blood sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol to reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Unfortunately, good glucose control does not wholly eliminate the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Coupled with the fact that diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms in the beginning,
it is very important for all diabetics to have their eyes checked every year. This can be done by your doctor or by having a photograph of the retina taken.
The doctor can make the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy by examining the eyes with special instruments and lenses. Taking photographs of the
retina is a helpful way of detecting
and assessing diabetic retinopathy.
Laser treatment is required if the
retinopathy becomes severe. Laser
burns are used to treat swollen
areas of the retina. They are also
applied to areas of the retina
damaged by poor blood supply to
stop abnormal new blood vessels
from growing. Laser treatments are
usually carried out in an outpatient
setting. Multiple sessions of
treatment are usually necessary.
Other surgical procedures such
as vitrectomy may be required
in advanced cases where there is
bleeding into the eye, scar tissue
formation and retinal detachment.
Surgery is the last resort to save the
eye. Injections of medication into
the eye to control swelling or new
vessel growth are given in selected
Regular eye exams are required
after treatment as retinopathy
is a long-term condition. The
aim of treatment is to stabilise
the retinopathy and prevent the
worsening of vision over a period
of time. Unfortunately, the damage
that has already occurred can be
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