Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Understanding Diabetic Retinopathy by Kathryn Dawson

Diabetic Retinopathy is a form of visual impairment that occurs due to an increase in blood sugar levels. According to the NHS Foundation Trust, Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults under the age of 65 in the UK. More than 13% of the people registered as blind suffer from this diabetic eye disease. Given the seriousness of the issue, the UK government has launched a national screening programme. This programme aims to detect diabetic eye disease at an early stage, so that it can be cured through vision correction treatments.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy affects the vision by damaging or blocking blood vessels in the eyes. It particularly affects the retina, a thin layer of tissues that forms the wall at the back of the eye and is responsible for creating the sense of vision.

The space between the lens of the eye and the retina wall is filled with a transparent viscous liquid to help light travel across to the retina. During Diabetic Retinopathy, this space is blocked or damaged in a way that the retina cannot receive the incident light appropriately. This can happen due to the swelling of blood vessels, leakage of fluids in front of the retina or growth of new vessels inside the retina.

Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is classified into different stages:

• Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy: In the early stages, microaneurysms emerge in the retina cells. This causes the retina cells to swell.

• Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy: As the stage advances to the next level, the retinal nerves are blocked due to excessive swelling.

• Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy: At this stage, a majority of the retinal nerves are blocked, reducing the supply of blood in the retina. Thus, the nerves send signals to the mind for the growth of new blood vessels to compensate for the loss.

• Proliferative Retinopathy: This is the final stage of the disease. At this stage, new blood vessels begin to form in the retinal wall. These vessels are not normal and their growth hampers the retina’s surface as well as the viscous liquid in the front part of the retina, which aids vision. New blood vessels may leak blood into the liquid region or can cause accumulation of fluids.

Diabetic Retinopathy: Major Symptoms

The symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy start showing at a late stage. According to reports published by the National Health Services (NHS), a majority of the patients experience blurred vision due to the accumulation of fluid in front of the retina. They also experience hindrances in their field of vision. If an individual faces such hindrances, which continue to exist despite washing the eyes with water, s/he should immediately consult an ophthalmologist. Light flashes or spots are also experienced by a majority of the patients. At an advanced stage, it causes partial visual impairment and later leads to blindness.

Diabetic Retinopathy: Treatment

A range of clinical examinations, such as angiography and retinal scanning, are carried out to test the onset of Diabetic Retinopathy. Today, technology has progressed to allow the use of laser treatment to dry up fluid accumulating in the retina. Proliferative Retinopathy will take hundreds of laser burns for vision correction. The development of new vessels and bleeding in the retinal nerves can be treated through surgery.

Timely treatment can lower the risk of blindness by almost 95%. Post-operative care should not be taken lightly. Those diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy might require eye examinations more often than usual.

Advancements in technology have led to various specialised eye treatments, such as cataract removal operations. However, prevention is always better than cure. Listed below are some general safety tips:

• Go for annual eye check-ups

• Maintain blood sugar levels at a moderate level

• Keep blood pressure at normal levels

• Ensure a diet rich in proteins and avoid fast foods

• Exercise regularly