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Find out how other's are living with diabetes

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The importance of regular eye checks – by Tim Harwood

Why is it important for diabetics to have regular eye tests?
As diabetics we constantly have all kinds of advice thrown at us in an almost threatening kind of way! We are told that unless we follow certain pieces of advice we risk all sorts of bad things to us … Such advice comes at us from many different people including the GP, diabetic nurse and the podiatrist. Well unfortunately this article plans on doing very much the same, although the person doing the advising is the Optometrist!

Depending on the area you live in, most diabetics should be on some sort of diabetic retinal screening programme which your GP should enrol you on. Diabetic retinopathy is the biggest cause of blindness (apologies for this depressing fact!) in the working age range and this is why it is so important that you have regular checks for it. Clearly this is the negative side of diabetic retinopathy but the positive side of diabetic retinopathy is that it shouldn’t be the biggest cause of blindness in the working age range as it generally can be treated. Providing your diabetic retinopathy is picked up early enough by either your Optician or retinal screener is it likely to be treatable.

What exactly is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is effectively a disease of the retinal blood vessels at the back of your eyes. The result of the disease is that the blood vessels become weakened and are therefore are more likely to leak and haemorrhage. If this occurs then there is an interruption to the blood flow (and therefore oxygen) of the retina and consequently vision can be lost. In addition to this, if the diabetic retinopathy is left untreated the retina will produce new blood vessels in response to a lack of oxygen in the retina. These new blood vessels are however even more fragile and ‘leaky’ then the normal blood vessels, further exacerbating the problem.

Having said this, not all diabetics suffer from diabetic retinopathy. Around 40% of diabetics will suffer from diabetic retinopathy to some degree and this most likely if you suffer from type 1 diabetes. The single most important factor in reducing your chances of developing retinopathy is by controlling your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels for long periods of time will put you at a much higher risk of developing the disease.

Why have regular eye tests?
The main problem with diabetic retinopathy is that you may have it right now and be completely unaware that you do. There may be diabetic retinal changes that are only affecting your peripheral vision and so consequently you will not notice it. These peripheral changes tend to accumulate and then all of a sudden your central vision becomes damaged and there is very little that can be done about it. By attending for regular eye tests/retinal screenings, the Optometrist can detect the early retinal changes which can be treated before they affect your central vision. Unfortunately once your central vision is damaged there is often very little that can be done about it. If there are significant retinal changes in your peripheral retinal then you will be assessed to see if laser treatment will be beneficial to you. This is not however the laser eye surgery that you see advertised on the TV as it in no way corrects the prescription in your glasses. The aim of diabetic laser treatment is to prevent your diabetic retinopathy from affecting your central vision. In summary your Optician can pick up and monitor any early diabetic retinal changes and act on them before they affect your central vision. By attending for an eye examination every year you are massively reducing your risk of developing any visual problems. If you combine this with keeping a tight control of your blood sugar levels, there is no reason that you should ever have any diabetic retinopathy problems.

This article was brought to you by Optometrist Tim Harwood. Tim has monitored people with diabetic retinopathy for over 10 years and has seen significant improvements in the treatments that can be offered. Tim also writes articles for his own website Treatmentsaver.com which covers a whole range of topics including a laser eye surgery forum for which he is the moderator. To ask any questions on laser eye surgery please click here. I hope this article has made you realise that by taking a few simple steps you can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease. This article was not meant as a lecture more as in inspiration that if you do right things your vision should be unaffected for life!