Helping Diabetics To Avoid Blindness

By Ainul Huda Mohamed Saaid

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Diabetes is the most common cause of blindness among adults in Malaysia.

According to the 2006 National Health and Morbidity Survey, about 15,000 to 39,000 people lost their sight because of diabetes.

This condition is referred to as diabetic retinopathy, where diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, namely the retina.

One in three diabetic patients is affected by this condition.

"Screening for diabetic retinopathy is vital because the longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this condition, Consultant Endocrinologist and Head of the Endocrine Unit at Hospital Putrajaya, " Dr Zanariah Hussein, said in a statement recently.

All people with diabetes type 1 and type 2 are at risk of getting the disease.

However, early detection with timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care can reduce the risk of severe vision loss by 95 per cent.

SYMPTOMS AND RISK FACTORS

There are no early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, but the condition can get worse and potentially cause vision loss or blindness over time.

As the condition progresses, the signs may include spots or dark strings floating, also known as floaters, in the vision.

Patients may also experience blurred vision, fluctuating vision, impaired colour vision and/or empty areas in the vision.

Risk of developing the condition can increase with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as tobacco use.

Pregnant women also face a higher risk of developing diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.

BETTER TREATMENT

With the rising number of diabetic cases in Malaysia, including among the younger population, the Ministry of Health (MOH) had in 2016 set up a  technical working group (TWG) for National Diabetic Retinopathy Screening.

The group brought together endocrinologists and eye care specialists to cohesively manage diabetic retinopathy, which requires the services of healthcare experts specialising in diabetes as well as optometry care.