Can we call it the 'sugar eyes'?

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

The body enzymes break down food into glucose and other smaller units. Glucose is needed by the body cells to produce energy; insulin is the hormone that helps glucose to get into cells. Inability of the body to produce or use insulin effectively increases the levels of insulin in the blood. Over time, this can damage some body organs such as the eyes, kidneys or could result in the amputation of a limb. Diabetic patients often develop ophthalmic complications such as cataract, glaucoma, neuropathies and corneal abnormalities. The most common is diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina. In some cases, blood vessels may swell and leak fluids while abnormal blood vessels may grow on the surface of the retina in other cases. This can prevent light from reaching the retina. Diabetic retinopathy is classified into two, namely:

·         Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy: This is the early stage of the disease; mild symptoms could be noticed at this stage. The blood vessels in the retina are weakened causing microanuerysms (tiny bulges on the blood vessels) to protrude which may also leak fluid. It includes the mild, moderate and severe forms.

·         Proliferative diabetic retinopathy: Is a more advanced form of the disease. The retina sends signals for the body to grow new blood vessels for nourishment. These new vessels are abnormal, fragile and can leak blood resulting in severe vision loss or blindness.

At the onset of diabetic retinopathy, no symptoms or pains may be observed. Blurred vision may occur when the macula swells from leaking fluid. Specks of blood due to bleeding can be seen as spots. If left untreated, it can cause severe vision loss and even blindness.

To prevent progression to proliferative diabetic retinopathy, blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol should be controlled. Treatment for proliferative diabetic retinopathy includes

Laser surgery: It involves the use of laser beam to shrink abnormal blood vessels.

Vitrectomy: It is the removal of blood from the center of the eye through surgery. It is normally combined with other treatment procedures.

Other treatment procedures include injection with corticosteroids, cryotherapy, and panretinal photocoagulation.

This is a progressive condition that requires a regular follow-up. Early diagnosis and care can help prevent blindness in a large number of cases. Tobacco use should be strictly avoided. A diabetic can help prevent or slow the development of diabetic retinopathy by taking the prescribed medication, sticking to diet, exercising regularly, controlling high blood pressure and avoiding alcohol.


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