Share on

Understanding your eyes – Introduction to Diabetic Retinopathy Part 1

Article by: Ms Cheryl Kee | Optometrist | Alexis @ Paragon

Diabetes is a medical condition where the body does not produce enough insulin to convert sugar to energy, leading to an accumulation of sugar in the blood

We all know that diabetes can affect multiple organs in the body, but, do you know that diabetes can also affect your eyes? Complications to the eye can vary from minor issues, such as cataract, to more severe eye diseases, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy (also commonly known as diabetic eye disease), which can ultimately lead to total blindness.

In Singapore, 1 in 9 people aged 18 – 69 years old has diabetes. This constitutes about 11.3% of our population!

Diabetes is one of leading causes of blindness in Singapore. Studies has shown that every 1 in 3 Singaporean with diabetes suffer from diabetic retinopathy, of which, approximately 10% are sight threatening cases.

diabetic retinopathy - eyes

(Right eye of patient with severe diabetic retinopathy)

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic Retinopathy is an eye condition where high sugar level causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina, causing leakage of blood and fluid, which eventually lead to vision loss in severe cases. This condition tends to affect both eyes.

Healthy eye (left) compared to an eye with diabetic retinopathy (right)

Healthy eye (left) compared to an eye with diabetic retinopathy (right)

Who are at risk of Diabetic Retinopathy?

  • Duration of diabetes: The longer the duration of diabetes, the higher the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy. Approximately 60% of patients who had a history of diabetes for 15 years or longer will develop some blood vessel damage in their eyes
  • Poorly controlled diabetes: Diabetic retinopathy tends to start earlier and at a more severe stage if blood sugar level is not well-controlled.
  • Other medical conditions: other co-existing medical conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure has been associated with eye damage related to diabetes
  • Pregnancy: Studies have shown a greater rate of progression of diabetic retinopathy in diabetic women when they are pregnant.

Look out for our next issue on the symptoms and treatment for diabetic retinopathy