Diabetes and your eyes

Author: Dr R. Swart| Date: 10 December 2019


Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease in people with diabetes. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to tiny blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. These blood vessels can leak fluid, bleed and close, stopping blood from passing through. In its most advanced stage, new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. This may lead to scarring and cell loss in the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy may also lead to diabetic macular oedema, which is a swelling in the area in the central part of the retina called the macula.

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

You can have diabetic retinopathy and not know it. This is because it often has no symptoms in its early stages. As diabetic retinopathy gets worse, you will notice symptoms such as:

  • seeing dark spots in your vision,
  • having blurry vision,
  • having vision that changes sometimes from blurry to clear,
  • seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision,
  • having poor night vision, and
  • noticing colours appear faded or washed out losing vision.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms usually affect both eyes.

Top Five Steps to Help Prevent Diabetic Eye Diseases If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing certain eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. The good news is that you can preserve your vision and reduce your chances of eye disease. Follow these steps to make sure you preserve your vision in the years to come.

  1. Get a comprehensive dilated eye examination from your Ophthalmologist at least once a year
  2. Control your blood sugar levels
  3. Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  4. Quit smoking
  5. Exercise

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Vision loss due to diabetic eye disease is sometimes irreversible. However early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. Newer treatment options for retinopathy are often able to stop the progression of the disease.

Laser can be used to help seal off leaking blood vessels. This can reduce swelling of the retina. Laser surgery can also help shrink blood vessels and prevent them from growing again.
Anti-VEGF injections (work against growth factors that aggravate the impairment) can reverse abnormal blood vessel growth and decrease fluid in the retina.
steroid implant is another option to reduce macular swelling.
Your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery called a vitrectomy. This type of surgery removes vitreous gel and blood from leaking vessels in the back of the eye.

The only way to detect diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stages is by visiting your ophthalmologist for an annual eye examination.

Dr R Swart MBChB, Dip (Ophth) (SA) MMED (Ophth)