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Diabetic Eye Disease

If you have chronic diabetes, your eyesight can be at risk. Patients with diabetes (the medical name is diabetes mellitus) need to be aware of this and ensure that they receive the correct treatment. Diabetes can result in a range of serious health issues. Possibly one of the worst is to lose your eyesight.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition of the body which results in raised blood sugar levels.

Diabetic eye disease is a disease of the eye which is caused by uncontrolled, poorly controlled or long-standing diabetes. It is a very common cause of loss of eyesight in our population.

How is eyesight affected by your blood sugar levels?

The eye contains blood vessels. Since all blood vessels can be damaged by high blood glucose levels, any of your organs can be damaged, including the eyes. Diabetes can affect all parts of the eye.

Diabetic eye disease is referred to as Diabetic Retinopathy. It occurs when diabetes affects the vessels at the back of the eye (the retina) and is a very common cause of blindness. The main types of diabetic retinopathy are:

  1. Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy – there are no abnormal (neovascular) blood vessels yet, the disease is in its early stage and the symptoms are mild
  2. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – abnormal blood vessels are present and the disease is at a more advanced stage. The new blood vessels may leak blood into the back of the eye, causing clouding of the vision.
  3. Macular Oedema – The centre of vision in the retina (the macula) may also become swollen because of leaking fluid – this is called macular oedema.
  4. Other complications include scarring of the retina, causing a detached retina, or damage to the optic nerve, causing glaucoma.

How is it diagnosed?

Patients may have decreased vision or loss of vision, or black spots in their vision. An ophthalmologist then examines the back of the eye using special equipment and is able to see the abnormal vessels. OCT, an optical laser scan, may be used to asses swelling at the back of the eye and to measure the thickness of the retina’s distinctive layers.

How to prevent diabetic eye disease?

You need to see a doctor regularly to manage the disease and prevent complications. Good control of hypertension (blood pressure), glucose levels and cholesterol levels will help delay or prevent diabetic retinopathy.

How is it treated?

All treatment of diabetes starts with measures to slow down or control the progression of the disease. For eye treatment, it may involve:

  • Injecting medication into the eye to discourage the formation of abnormal blood vessels
  • Laser (focussed light) to the retina to seal the leaks in abnormal blood vessels
  • Cataract surgery, or
  • Retinal surgery to the back of the eye.

In conclusion, diabetes is a serious disease and needs to be managed carefully to improve the quality of life of the patient.

For more information, please contact

Dr Mohammed Ismail Motala
Specialist Ophthalmologist
MBChB MMed (Ophth) (UCT), FC Ophth (South Africa)
Shifa Private Hospital
Telephone: +27 31 207 6879
Practice cell number: +27 81 441 9560
WhatsApp: +27 81 542 8119
Email: administration@doctormotala.com or appointment@doctormotalal.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.