The retina is a light-sensitive layer lining the inside of the eye capturing the light travelling through the eye. Diabetes mellitus (a disease with deranged sugar metabolism) over a period of time affects the eye.

It causes damage to the retina, and the condition is referred to as diabetic retinopathy. With the fast-growing health hazard of diabetes mellitus, especially in India, it would be wise to know if you could be a likely victim. If you or your relative has diabetes, read along with them.

Who are at the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

Only Diabetics and all diabetics have the risk of developing this disease.  

Who are at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?

A higher risk develops in case of

  • The long duration of diabetes- longer the duration, higher the risk.
  • Control of diabetes – poorer the control, higher the risk.
  • Pregnant diabetics
  • Co-morbid conditions like hypertension, renal (kidney) failure etc.

Who can detect diabetic retinopathy?

Your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) is the right person to detect diabetic retinopathy. It requires dilated (requires the instillation of eye drops to dilate the pupil) eye examination. The retina cannot be assessed without dilation of pupils.

When should a diabetic get an eye/retina check up?

It is recommended that all diabetics should get retina check up at the time of initial diagnosis of diabetes and based on the findings of the initial evaluation the next visit is decided by the ophthalmologist. Ideally, it is recommended that all diabetic should undergo retinal evaluation once every year.

What are the early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

In almost all early stages and a significant percentage of moderate to severe cases of diabetic retinopathy, there may not be any symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.

In advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, symptoms include decreased visual acuity, multiple scotomas (areas of poor vision in the visual field) floaters (due to bleeding) field defect (partial retinal detachment ).

Why is it important for a diabetic to see an eye doctor for a retina check-up when there are no symptoms?

Because in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy there are no symptoms and when the condition is diagnosed in early stages many kinds of preventive measures can be taken to prevent progression of the disease.

Sometimes diabetic retinopathy can cause irreversible loss of quality of vision in spite of best efforts which is entirely preventable if the patient comes for annual retina check up and not wait for symptoms to develop and seek curative treatment.

What is the role of physician/ endocrinologist/ diabetologist in the management of diabetic retinopathy?

Their role is in educating the patients under their care to go for retina/eye check-up annually.

Is diabetic retinopathy reversible?

Yes, in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy if a patient manages to keep the sugar levels under good control, the changes are reversible. This is precisely the reason why it is so important to go for routine screening when there are no symptoms.

What is “fundus “and what does “fundus evaluation” mean?

The interior surface of the eye is called the fundus. It contains the optic nerve and the entire retina including central macula and fovea. Fundus evaluation refers to the examination of the interior surface of the eye. It requires instillation of dilating drops and examination by ophthalmoscopy.

What is the fundus photograph?

Fundus photography refers to capturing the images of the interior surface of the eye. It is being used as a way to screen diabetic patients for retinopathy and also document findings in cases of established retinopathy.

If you are diabetic, consult expert surgeons to know the best steps to prevent diabetic retinopathy or in case of diagnosis, know the best course of action.