Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were over 3,721,900 cases of diabetes in the Philippines in 2017.
Diabetes results in raised blood sugar. Over time, it can lead to serious complications. Diabetes can also damage the eye. The most common diabetes-related eye disease is diabetic retinopathy.
“Diabetic retinopathy happens when you have elevated and poorly controlled blood sugar,” explains Asian Eye Institute retina and vitreous disease specialist Dr. Amadeo Veloso Jr. “The blood vessels in the retina get blocked, so the blood supply is cut off.”
The retina is the back part of the eye that senses light and sends images to the brain. To function, it needs a continuous supply of blood. “Without the blood supply, the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels that are weak and leak easily. This is when patients start to experience eye problems,” Veloso adds.
Usually affecting both eyes, many patients do not know they have diabetic retinopathy until symptoms arise. Left untreated, it can lead to visual impairment or blindness.
Changes in vision
Violeta Villareal suffered from sudden blurring of vision. “Six years ago, I felt changes in my vision. Sometimes, my vision was blurry. Other times, I saw floaters and colors seemed faded. It was really hard to do things at home, read and write, and drive, especially at night.”
Diabetes runs in her family. She recalls: “I was 42 when I learned I was diabetic. I felt dizzy and got tired easily. I lost weight, and I felt hungry or thirsty even when I just ate. Being married to a doctor, he knew something was wrong. He then decided to take me to an executive checkup.” Villareal was referring to her husband, Dr. Hermogenes Villareal, a renowned dentist.
She figured she would only feel those symptoms whenever her blood sugar is up. “I felt the need to always get my eyeglass lenses changed. Then I was recommended by a good friend to Asian Eye. When I went for a checkup, I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and recommended for a laser surgery.
Treatments available do not cure diabetic retinopathy, but they help delay its progression and prevent permanent blindness.
“The treatment that will be done depends on the extent of patient’s eye condition. They may undergo laser surgery, injection therapy or vitrectomy,” says Veloso. “In Mrs. Villareal’s case, we did laser surgery to shrink abnormal new vessels.”
400 laser shots
“Dr. Veloso managed to protect my eyes from possible blindness,” shares Villareal. “Can you imagine, I received 400 laser shots for each eye. But he was so good that I did not feel a thing! I even got back to doing normal activities a few days after surgery. My vision is now clearer. I only wear reading glasses.”
Veloso emphasizes that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep patients from going blind and suffering from other complications of diabetes.
“Prevention is better than cure, so make it a habit to control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels; eat healthy; exercise regularly; and avoid smoking.
He adds: “A comprehensive eye exam every six months is also a must for diabetics. It is important to check the retina of the patient, so we can determine if the patient’s vision has been affected by diabetes and what treatment can be done to prevent complications like retinal detachment, glaucoma or blindness.
“Patients who are not diabetics should also get their eyes checked even before they notice any changes in their vision.” (Story/Photos by: Charizze Henson)