Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of vision loss in working (20-65 years) adults, and globally, one out of every three diabetic patients tend to develop Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), as per diabetesjournal.org,
Estimates suggest that 17.6 to 28.9 per cent of diabetics in India suffer from diabetic retinopathy. This disease also has ramifications in terms of lower productivity among the country’s working population, and the consequent economic loss.
“Hence, young diabetics must aggressively start controlling their sugar levels and go for retina check-ups once a year, even if they do not have any vision problems,” said Dr Raja Narayanan, general secretary, Vitreoretinal Society of India.
DME, caused by diabetes, is a chronic and progressive condition that affects the back of the eye i.e., the retina. With DME, fluid accumulates in the macula – a part of the retina that controls the most detailed vision abilities – due to leaking blood vessels.
With diabetes patients being 25 times more at risk of losing their vision compared to the rest of the population, experts urge utmost importance be given to timely treatment.
Dr Chaitra Jayadev, senior vitreo-retinal consultant, Narayana Nethralaya Eye Institute, Bangalore said, “Roughly ¾ of patients walking into our clinic have diabetes. Across India, diabetic retinopathy affects 20-28 per cent of the population, out of which 10 per cent have sight-threatening conditions like macular edema or proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Although we’ve noticed a trend of low healthcare seeking behaviour, the younger population of 25-to-35-year-olds are coming to clinics earlier, with nearly five per cent of them presenting with active disease.”
Symptoms to watch out for
Blurred, fuzzy, or distorted vision, impaired colour vision, decreased contrast or colour sensitivity, experiencing dark spots, straight lines that appear wavy or crooked, difficulty seeing at a distance or vision loss.
Keep diabetes, glucose, and cholesterol levels in check
Effectively controlling these parameters can prevent or delay the onset of diabetic retinopathy. There are smart wearables that one can use for continuous glucose monitoring. For DME patients, managing and monitoring diabetes is the most critical component of limiting further disease progression.
Lifestyle changes matter
Patients of DME should aim to quit smoking, switch to a healthy diet that includes vegetables and fruits, engage in meditation and regular physical activity. Since obesity is one of the leading risk factors of diabetic retinopathy, an active lifestyle goes a long way in helping patients manage this eye disease.
Adhere to medical treatment
For patients of DME, compliance or treatment adherence are necessary to enable good therapy outcomes. Given the progressive nature of retinal diseases, strict adherence to treatment, follow-ups are critical to avoid vision loss.
Dr Ajay Dudani, CEO Vitreoretinal Surgeon, Mumbai Retina Centre, said that while young diabetics today are more aware of the disease and the treatment, they are unable to control their blood glucose levels owing to their current lifestyle.
“It’s important to know that only a few diabetic retinopathy patients can actually reverse vision-threatening sequelae once they set in. The rest continue to progress even with strict glycaemic control, therefore, as doctors, we emphasise on regular screening, follow-ups, and adherence to treatment,” said Dr Dudani.
It is important for DME patients to learn to cope with their condition better, especially at the early stages of diagnosis. Experts mention that this disease can severely affect mental health, and addressing these effects are equally important along with medical treatment.
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