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Diabetes and the Eye

Diabetes can cause the following:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy – damage to the blood vessels in the retina

  • Cataract – clouding of the eyes lens – this may require surgery


What is diabetic retinopathy?

The retina is the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision. Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina caused by diabetes. High blood sugar levels weaken and damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina causing them to leak. Blood vessels can also become blocked cutting off oxygen supply to the retinal cells.

Types of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Non-proliferative Retinopathy – this is the early stage and there may be no symptoms. The blood vessels are weakened causing tiny bulges (called microaneurysms) to protrude from their walls. There may be bleeds (haemorrhages) and leakage of fluid and protein (exudates).

  • Diabetic Maculopathy – this is swelling of the central part of the retina (called the macular). This can cause severe blurring of vision.

  • Proliferative Retinopathy –this is an advanced stage of retinopathy. New abnormal blood vessels grow from damaged blood vessels because of poor oxygen supply. These new vessels are delicate and bleed easily causing severe loss of vision.



What is the treatment for diabetic retinopathy?

  • If you have mild diabetic retinopathy then you will not require any treatment other than controlling risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure, elevated glucose and cholesterol levels, and stopping smoking).

  • Diabetic Maculopathy – this is treated with injections of a drug called Avastin into your eye. The injections are done in the rooms and are repeated monthly. Several injections may be required. Sometimes laser may be used. The swelling is assessed by doing an OCT (Ocular Coherence Tomography) scan.

  • Proliferative Retinopathy is treated with laser or with Avastin injections. Usually thousands of tiny laser spots are applied to the back of the eye to cause the abnormal fragile blood vessels to disappear. Sometimes several sessions of treatment are required. Sometimes there may be scar tissue and severe bleeding that can only be removed by an operation called a vitrectomy

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