When our general health affects our eyes

Retinal Vascular Disease or Retinopathy as it is called, is a disease caused by bodily damage to our blood vessels, generally, but not alwayscaused by Diabetes or abnormally high blood pressure. The intolerance of our body to combat blood sugar levels, and there are many reasons, but generally our inability to produce enough insulin. It is true then, that our general health, and any bodily ills can cause harm to the eyes.In general, retinopathy affects the blood vessels in the eye, which can swell and leak fluid or hemorrhage which leads to distorted vision. This is the most common cause of blindness today and needs treatment.

New blood vessels appear on the surface of the retina and can cause scarring resulting cell loss of the retina. There are different types of retinopathy, mild, moderate and severe,non-proliferative retinopathy. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy or PDRas it is known is the worst type. Blood vessels migrate along the inside of the retina and into the vitreous gel which as we know is the fluid which fills the eye. These new blood vessels are vey weak and can burst easily causing scarring and even retinal detachment and possible permanent vision loss.

People at risk are usually those who have type 1 or 2 diabetes for a prolonged period. At risk particularly are women who are pregnant as they are more prone to therapid onset of diabetic retinopathy. The early stages of detection are similar to retinal detachment, i.e. floating spots in the eyes. These can clear but you need to consult with a specialist. It is advisable to consult with a specialist or optometrist annually as they can pick up early stages of retinal detachment by photographing the eye. Also, additional blood vessels can be clearly seen on the camera screen.

There is a region of the retina called the macula and a build up of fluid will sometimes occur and which can be clearly seen by this test (photo). Today, a normal optometrist will insert drops into the eye which dilate the pupil in order for them to see the retina and optic nerve and examine them for any problems. They also measure the pressure in the eye (Tonometry) even for a simple spectacle eye test. Any change in the blood vessels or leaking fluid can be clearly seen. The macula might be swollen and any changes to the retina can be observed.

We now ask ourselves, how can we prevent this occurrence? Simply by having our eyes tested at least once a year. If diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed in time about 95% of treatments are successful. Anybody with diabetes should really have a dilated eye examination at least once a year if not more frequently, depending on the severity of the diabetes. There are some early treatments such as a course of Anti-VEGF Injections. These injections block a protein called endothelial growth factor. These injections block the growth of the blood vessels which grow as explained and reverse their growth thus blocking their ability to grow inside the retina. Focal Grid laser surgery is also available in which the eye is subjected to tiny bursts of laser therapy destroying these additional blood vessels. There is a lot of research currently being performed which have revealed some other forms of therapy however, the onus is on the person to make sure that the eye examination iscarried out as frequently as can be performed.