Got Diabetes? Keep An Eye On Eyes

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you must schedule a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. People with diabetes have a higher risk of not only losing sight but also developing other eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma, writes Dr Rohan Chawla, Additional Professor, Dr RP Centre, AIIMS, Delhi, exclusively for The Health Pioneer.

Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is an eye condition that causes vision loss and blindness in diabetic people. It affects the blood vessels in the retina. If you have diabetes, it’s important to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once in a year.

Unfortunately, people are unaware of the risk threats that come with diabetes. No wonder, we are getting a lot of DR cases. In fact, India is heading to become the diabetes capital of the world with perhaps one of the largest number of diabetics patients living in the country. It is predicted that about 5 to 10% of these patients are bound to develop DR over time.

Considering a large population of diabetic patients, this number will run into millions. I feel that, at present, we do not even have the infrastructural capacity in the government as well as the private sector to handle so many patients. Hence, it is all the more important that we become more aware of this diabetes-induced eye disease and take preventive steps against this disease.

In my OPD, on an average, more than 30-40 percent of patients have diabetes-induced eye vision problems. Many of them were never aware that diabetes could lead to blindness. Had they been told very early when diabetes had just set in that it needs to be controlled well, a regular eye check-up would have helped detect this disease early and prevented devastating complications. In many of them, blindness would have been prevented.

Even the WHO has taken diabetes as one of the diseases of importance for prevention of blindness.

DR is a preventable cause of blindness. If we keep diabetes under control, DR will not occur. So one needs to understand what is actually happening due to uncontrolled diabetes. High blood sugar levels lead to damage of the retinal blood vessels ie the blood vessels which supply blood to the most sensitive part of the eye on which image forms, what we call as retina. Once these blood vessels start getting damaged there occurs a leakage of fluid and then blood in retina and image formation suffers leading to loss of vision.

It can be from very mild to very severe so as to cause total blindness. And since it’s a systematic disease, it generally tends to affect both the eyes.

You can reduce the risk of developing DR or stop it from getting worse by keeping your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure under control. This can be done by making healthy lifestyle choices and proper diabetes medication.

Doctor’s Advice

vPatients do not have early symptoms because the most sensitive part of the retina will not get affected initially. Thus annual eye check up recommended for diabetics even if vision is okay

v Diabetic eye disease can be prevented if we can control sugar levels. The average blood sugar level (HbA1c) should be kept less than 7

vBlood pressure also worsens this disease. Hence, BP needs to be controlled.

vHigh cholesterol level, associated anemia and kidney problems are other risk factors

Early screening of eyes is important. Yearly eye exam is a must. If no changes are found, then the test should be repeated next year

vIf changes are noticed in the retina then as per the advice of the ophthalmologist, investigation and treatment should be undertaken

vOne should exercise daily and maintain a proper balanced diet chart which needs to be followed religiously.


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