Chronic high blood sugar as a result of uncontrolled diabetes is the main cause of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes affects the blood vessels of the body, including the tiny blood vessels in the retina. Blockages may be caused in the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off its blood supply. Early diabetic retinopathy, otherwise known as nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), is diagnosed when the nerve fibres in the retina or the macula begin to swell. This can result in blurring of vision which comes and goes over the day, depending on your blood sugar levels.
Over time these damaged and blocked vessels may close off and lead to the development of new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. These abnormal blood vessels can leak or bleed in the vitreous and lead to pressure in the eyeball resulting in glaucoma. This is then categorised as advanced diabetic retinopathy.
While many may only experience mild visual distortions, in advanced stages, symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:
The extent of these changes on what type of diabetes you have. Roughly 40% of people with type 1 diabetes and 20% of those with type 2 diabetes will develop some sort of diabetic retinopathy. While this condition is sight-threatening, early blindness is usually preventable with routine checks and effective management of underlying diabetes.
All type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics should have a thorough eye examination including dilated retinal examination at least once per year. Dr York will perform a thorough eye examination and dilated retinal examination including photos and a 3 D scan of your retina. Diabetes is a PMB condition and all medical aid funds in South Africa cover an annual Diabetic Retinopathy consultation with an Ophthalmologist. This screening examination and any treatment required will be covered by the chronic benefit on your medical aid, regardless of whether your plan has a medical savings benefit or not.
Treatment of Diabetic Eye Disease is based on the visual symptoms you are experiencing and the stage of diabetic retinopathy diagnosed. In most cases controlling blood sugar and blood pressure is the first priority for treatment as proper blood sugar control can bring some of the vision back and prevent any further damage.