In a rapidly changing world, taking care of your health has become a top priority. For those who suffer from illnesses that require them to change their lifestyle and diet, routine life can become tedious.

Following the pandemic, many things have changed in terms of lifestyle. With working from home gaining prominence, several health issues have surfaced. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle increased the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, lipid disorders, and diabetes.

Among the most common diseases today, diabetes increasingly affects millions of people. In 2019, India had 77 million people with diabetes. This figure is expected to exceed 130 million by 2045.

With diabetes, the damage spreads silently as blood sugar and insulin levels rise. There have been numerous studies that indicate that the damage begins long before an individual is diagnosed with the disease. It is therefore imperative to treat your body well, as the disease is more likely to affect blood vessels, nerves and organs. These complications could get worse if neglected for a long time.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is one of the consequences of damage to nerves and blood vessels. The disease affects the eyes because high blood sugar can damage blood vessels in light-sensitive tissues at the back of the retina.

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“Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes and is one of the leading causes of blindness in people with diabetes. High blood sugar levels for a long time causes blockage of blood vessels in the retina (back part of the eye). As a result, the blood supply is cut off, leading to the development of tiny abnormal blood vessels that can leak and cause DR. It is seen in both Type 1 and Type II diabetics,” says Dr. Sangeeta Shukla, Microsurgeon and Refractive Eye Surgeon, Department of Ophthalmology, HOD.

According to the National Diabetes and DR Survey, DR was reported in 16.9% of people with diabetes in India. The prevalence of DR that can lead to vision loss is 3.6%. According to Dr. Shukla, there may be no symptoms in the early stages of DR, as they develop as the disease progresses.

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Types of diabetic retinopathy

In early DR, small old vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina. There may be swelling in the central part of the retina causing marked changes in vision. On the other hand, Advanced DR can lead to the formation of abnormal and new vessels and can cause retinal hemorrhages with blood seen in front of the retina. At a later stage, there may be retinal detachment leading to loss of vision.

“There are two types of DR. One is the more common early DR known as nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy or NPDR. When you have NPDR, the walls of your retina’s blood vessels are weakened, causing fluid and blood to leak into the retina. When the large retinal vessels begin to dilate and have an irregular diameter, NPDR changes from mild to severe,” says Dr. Hema Mansukhlal, consultant ophthalmologist at Masina Hospital.

According to Dr. Hema, damage to the retinal blood vessels often results in an accumulation of fluids in the central part which is the macula of the retina. And, if macular edema affects vision, the treatment required is to prevent permanent vision loss. “The second type is advanced DR, also known as proliferative DR. In this type, the damaged blood vessels close, leading to the growth of new abnormal blood vessels in the retina and these new blood vessels,” she adds.

Take care of the eyes

The lack of symptoms in the initial stage makes it difficult for many to even pay attention to the condition. The impact of this neglect is accentuated by the lack of awareness about the condition and the means to take care of one’s eyes.

“Diabetes-related eye disease in the retina usually appears after five years of onset. People are advised to have their eyes checked every six months after being diagnosed with diabetes. diabetes long before they are diagnosed. With regular check-ups, the early stages of DR can be diagnosed and effectively treated,” shares Dr Sujal Shah, Director and Consultant, Ophthalmology, Sir HN

Hospital Foundation.

Medical experts recommended lifestyle and diet changes for diabetics, and when it came to DR, all unanimously suggested regular eye exams as a precautionary measure.

“The eyesight of people with diabetes will remain healthy if they are advised to take preventive treatment. Another crucial change is that the onset of diabetic retinopathy can lead to further complications; something similar can affect the kidneys. It is therefore advisable to consult a nephrologist,” adds Dr. Sujal.

Symptoms and Treatment

Some of the common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include frequent vision changes, spots or dark circles in front of the eyes, flashes of light, poor perception of color vision, dark areas or loss of vision. There are also occasions when RD symptoms can lead to frequent eye infections, non-healing ulcers, and the development of cataracts at an early age. Some cases are also said to have double vision.

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Diagnosis in cases of DR is made by retinal examination via fundus examination also known as fundus examination and optical coherence tomography (OCT). As DR progresses, treatments include injections inside the eye and laser therapy. Medical experts say prompt treatment can slow or prevent disease progression.

In order to prevent diabetes-related eye disease, monitoring of diet, regular exercise, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol management, biannual eye exam and vigilance for vision changes are advised. Medical experts also recommend that diabetics quit smoking, alcohol, and coffee to promote eye and overall health.