With the incidence of diabetes fast assuming epidemic proportions, diabetic retinopathy — specific changes in the retina caused by uncontrolled diabetes mellitus — has emerged a forerunner in associated complications, often leading to permanent blindness if not detected early.
“Nearly half of all diabetics will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime,” says Dhanashree Ratra, retina surgeon at Rotary Narayana Sankara Nethralaya in Salt Lake. Ratra laments that lack of awareness has compounded matters.
Since the disease is irreversible, early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best protection against loss of vision, maintain retina specialists. “It’s true that for every diagnosed case, there is a significant number roaming undetected,” observes eye surgeon Amitava Biswas. His tertiary referral centre, Sunetra, in Santoshpur, records a high traffic of patients with the disease, “around one in five”.
Biswas and Ratra, both formerly with Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai, concur that the incidence of diabetic retinopathy in Calcutta is higher than in down South, and ascribe it to poor awareness of the condition.
“Very often, patients come to us in extremely advanced stages, with vitreous haemorrhage or traction retinal detachment,” says Ratra. With the development of vitreous microsurgery, nowadays, there is a 60-70 per cent chance of improvement in vision. Nonetheless, awareness remains the key, since treatment can only help retain existing vision, maintain eye specialists.
“Every diabetic should go for an annual eye check-up, and for those with a family history of diabetes, the assessment should be six-monthly,” stresses Biswas.