Diabetes as a lifestyle disease needs no introduction. If you are a diabetic who maintains good blood sugar control, you have nothing to worry about. Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can affect the eyes as much as it can affect the heart, kidney, brain, liver and other organs.

Diabetic Retinopathy occurs when damage to the retina is caused by high blood sugar levels. If this is not detected and treated early, it can lead to blindness in both eyes. Doctors say that there will be practically no symptoms at the beginning stages of retinopathy and problems with vision will start appearing only at a much later stage when it may be too late to prevent blindness.

You will need to check your eyes periodically, at least once a year, to ensure that there is no damage to the retina.

What Are the Chances of Diabetics Developing Diabetic Retinopathy

Sankara Nethralaya studied the incidence of diabetic retinopathy in 5,999 Chennai residents  and reported that 18% of those over the age of 40 with diabetes mellitus were found to have developed diabetic retinopathy1.

In Vizag, it was found that 25% of diabetics of all age groups ended up with diabetic retinopathy2 and worldwide, 34.6% of all diabetics are reported to have developed diabetic retinopathy3.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, especially those who have been battling diabetes from a very early age.

Causes of Diabetic Retinopathy

These are the most common causes of retinal damage due to diabetes:

  1. Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can cause the blood vessels carrying blood to the retina to rupture and leak and damage the retina.
  1. Long duration of diabetes. The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances of you getting affected with retinopathy.
  1. High blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure along with high blood sugar, you are at a greater risk of retinal damage.

4 Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy     

There are four stages leading up to loss of vision due to diabetic retinopathy:

1. Mild nonproliferative retinopathy: This is the earliest stage where balloon-like swelling happens in the blood vessels of the retina.

2. Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy: As the disease advances, some of the blood vessels that nourish the retina get blocked.

3. Severe nonproliferative retinopathy: In this stage, more and more blood vessels near the retina get blocked, cutting down on the nourishment aspect.

4. Proliferative retinopathy: This is an advanced stage, where the retina sends signals for growth of new and abnormal blood vessels. These vessels have thin and fragile walls, which when leak blood, lead to loss of vision and blindness.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

Early-stage symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are not noticeable so the only way to find out if you have diabetic retinopathy is to get your eyes checked regularly.

It is only in the late stages that these symptoms appear:

  • Blurred Vision

Your vision starts to blur when the macula (the part of the retina that gives sharp vision) swells up with fluid collection. This condition is called macular edema.

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Spots or dark strings start to cloud your vision

If you are a diabetic, then you need to ensure that you take a comprehensive dilated eye exam done at least once a year. This will help detect retinopathy at an early stage and you may benefit from treatment to prevent it from getting worse.

Don’t postpone this eye screening, citing work pressure or other excuses as diabetic retinopathy left undetected can cause complete loss of vision.

It is also essential that you take timely and proactive medical treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. As a matter of fact, the sooner retinopathy is detected and treated reduces the risk of severe vision loss by about 95%.

Prevention of Diabetic Retinopathy

Eyes are our windows to the world so you need to be extra diligent in caring for your health and preventing diabetic retinopathy.

– Better control of blood sugar levels

– Reduce bad cholesterol

– Normalise blood pressure

– Regular eye examinations for early diagnosis and treatment

Home Remedies for Retinopathy

Nature is the safest, most effective and time-tested way to heal and prevent damage to the  retina. Here are some easy home remedies:

Spinach or spinach extract has sufficient quantities of Vitamin A and carotenoid that boost the health of retina and eye tissue. Vitamin A is essential to keep the eyes healthy and can improve vision problems.

Gingko Biloba helps increase oxygen and nutrients delivery to the eyes, and in the process clears toxins and allows more blood to nourish the retina. Over and above this, Gingko has flavonoids and terpenoids antioxidants that protect against retinopathy in the best possible way.

Bilberry strengthens the veins and blood vessels in the eye and protects the retina. It also reduces damage caused by diabetic retinopathy.

Grape seed extract has procyanidins which strengthen the blood capillaries in retina, thereby preventing blood clots or bleeding. The extract also provides essential nutrients that increases night vision and slows down eye ageing. In addition to this, grape seed extract prevents retinopathy and arteriosclerosis in the eye.

Jambul seeds, commonly known as Jamun is beneficial in treating retinopathy since they reduce the blood sugar level and also slow down the swelling in the blood vessels. Put 2 tsp to 1 tbsp of jambul seeds in your cooking on a daily basis.

Quercitin is a type of flavonoid which is abundant in dark red or blue fruits and brightly coloured plants. It is helpful in preventing blood clots in the retina region as it slows down the insulin-like growth factor.

Treatment Options for Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, discuss all treatment options with your doctor and follow all medical advice as you may be able to prevent further damage to your retina.

  • Laser treatment is advisable for patients suffering from proliferative retinopathy. This kind of treatment seals leaking blood vessels, so that the growth of new blood vessels get inhibited and vision loss get prevented.
  • Surgery is the last option and may be required in severe cases that fail to respond to laser treatment.

The very thought of blindness can be terrifying, so keep a constant eye on your blood sugar levels, eat a healthy diabetic diet, be physically active and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

There is no reason why you should develop diabetic retinopathy if you keep your diabetes under control. Tell us how you manage your diabetes in the comments.

Additional Reading

  1. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/visakhapatnam/Diabetic-retinopathy-on-the-rise-in-city/articleshow/47950892.cms
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491270/
  3. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/Watch-Out-For-Diabetic-Eye/2015/06/24/article2882853.ece
  4. https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy
  5. https://nei.nih.gov/sites/default/files/nehep-pdfs/NEI_DR_Infographic.pdf
  6. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications/
  7. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetic-retinopathy/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  8. http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Diabetic_retinopathy?open
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797942/
  10. https://www.homemademedicine.com/home-remedies-retinopathy.html