Regular eye tests can help in the early detection of Type 2 diabetes and most cases of sight loss can be avoided if symptoms are caught at an early stage, opticians have stated.
"Opticians are trained to look out for signs of diabetes during regular eye examinations,” says Noel Meehan, chairman of Specsavers Ireland. “People with diabetes are in danger of suffering from diabetic retinopathy, but if this condition is detected early and treated, blindness can be prevented in the majority of cases”.
The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has been identified by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland as one of the most serious health issues facing this country. A Report from the Institute estimates that the number of people in Ireland with the disease will reach almost 200,000 by 2015, an increase of 37% from 2008.
Furthermore, St. James’s Hospital in Dublin says that it is seeing an increase of 20% each year in the patients it diagnoses with Type 2 diabetes. One of the most serious complications of the condition is diabetic retinopathy, a disease of the eyes that can lead to blindness if left untreated.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the retina. The retina is the layer at the back of the eye, which is sensitive to light. To be able to see, light must be able to pass to the retina. It passes through the cornea (a clear covering in front of the eye), lens and vitreous (a clear, jelly-like substance that gives support to the back of the eye). The focused light or images are then carried to the brain by the optic nerve.
Diabetes causes the capillaries — tiny blood vessels — in the retina to become blocked. This may then lead to leakage in the central retina or result in the growth of new vessels, which may bleed and fill the eye with blood (a phenomenon called vitreous haemorrhage).
Retinopathy is usually classified according to severity, which may differ in both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes the greater the likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy.