Grenadian Diabetics: Avoid Blindness

By Roslyn A Douglas, MA
Founder of Central Health-Grenada

A diabetic having uncontrolled high blood glucose (sugar) over an extended period can develop a complication called Diabetic Retinopathy commonly called diabetic eye disease. It is, for this reason, those with diabetes are strongly encouraged upon diagnosis to get an eye examination.

Ophthalmologist Dr Elliot McGuire says that “Diabetic Eye Disease is one of the leading causes of blindness throughout the world and indeed in Grenada.” Dr McGuire goes on to say that it is important upon diagnosis that a diabetic gets screened. “Diabetic eye disease really does not affect you in the early phases. You don’t feel pain — nothing, and so you feel everything is alright. But there may be changes that could be treated and help you stop the progression of the diabetic eye disease. So it is important as soon as you are diagnosed as diabetic, you get your eyes checked.”

According to the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization Strategic Framework Vision 2020: The Right to Sight report for the Caribbean Region, diabetic eye disease is rampant. “More than 75% of patients who have had diabetes mellitus for more than 20 years will have some form of diabetic retinopathy. After 15 years of diabetes, approximately 2% of people become blind, and about 10% develop severe visual impairment.” Reasons for these high numbers range from inadequate medical management control to insufficient public awareness relating to the cause and prevention of blindness due to the disease. The Strategic Framework Vision report hopes that by the year 2020, countries of the region implement early detection, referral and treatment plan for diabetic retinopathy.

(Top): Normal vision; (Bottom): Simulated vision in a patient with advanced diabetic retinopathy. Source: Vista Eye Care

The National Eye Institute (NEI) of the US National Institute of Health (NIH) Diabetic Eye Disease: An Educator’s Guide, states that uncontrolled diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your retina. “Over time, high blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can damage the tiny blood vessels in your retina. These blood vessels may swell and become blocked. New, weaker blood vessels may form. When these changes occur, a person has developed some level of diabetic retinopathy.”

The specific test a diabetic should request from an eye doctor is a dilated eye exam. The US National Eye Institute states that a comprehensive dilated eye examination consists of 4 types of tests:

  1. Dilation: drops are placed on the eyeball, which causes the pupil to open wide
  2. Tonometry: measures the pressure in the eye
  3. Visual field test: assesses the patient’s peripheral vision
  4. Visual Acuity Test: measures how well the patient sees at various distances

Diabetics are encouraged to take charge of their health and be sure to get an annual dilated eye examination at least once a year, or as often as their eye specialist recommends.

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