Fight for Sight this Diabetes Week

17 June 16

written by:

Heather Fanning

(more articles)

Just about everyone has heard of diabetes. Currently there are 3.5 million people diagnosed in the UK with a further 549,000 who have the condition but don't yet know it.

By 2025, this figure is set to rise as an estimated 5 million people will be living with the condition.

There’s often confusion surrounding diabetes – the most common mistake is that people automatically presume that it has something to do with your diet. Whilst this has some truth there are in fact different types of diabetes:

Type 1

It develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. It accounts for about 10% of all adults with diabetes and is treated by daily insulin doses – taken either by injections or via an insulin pump.

Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. It is the most common type of diabetes found in childhood.

Type 2

It develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body are unable to produce enough insulin, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance).

Type 2 diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40 although it is also increasingly becoming more common in children, adolescents and young people of all ethnicities. Type 2 diabetes accounts for between 85-95% of all people with diabetes.

It can be managed/ treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity. In addition to this, medication and/or insulin are often required

Gestational diabetes

Is a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women, usually during the second or third trimester. Women with gestational diabetes don’t have diabetes before their pregnancy, and after giving birth it usually goes away. In some women diabetes may be diagnosed in the first trimester, and in these cases the condition most likely existed before pregnancy.

There are also a range of different types of diabetes including: Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY), Neonatal diabetes, Wolfram Syndrome and Alström Syndrome.

Symptoms of diabetes

The main symptoms of diabetes are:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
  • itching around the penis or vagina, or frequent episodes of thrush
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • blurred vision

Screening to help the Fight for Sight

Patients with diabetes will go through a series of screening processes to monitor for changes and deterioration including a diabetic eye screening.

Everyone with diabetes aged 12 or over should be invited to have their eyes screened once a year – as patients are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye (the retina) due to high blood sugar.

Over time, it damages the blood vessels that provide nutrition and oxygen to the retina. This damage makes the blood vessel walls leak blood and fluid in the centre of the retina (macular oedema). Eventually, unhealthy new blood vessels grow and can bleed. They can cause scarring of the retina or pull the retina (retinal detachment), causing severe sight loss.

It is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK partially amongst people of working age.

A special camera is used to take a photo of your retina (at the back of your eye) and a specialist will look for any changes. This free test is different to the checks carried out by an optician. If you notice any sight changes between appointments it is important to contact your optometrist or GP. 

Within 20 years of diagnosis nearly everyone with type 1 diabetes and 2 in 3 people with type 2 diabetes will have some degree of diabetic retinopathy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms don’t tend to be noticed until the later stages of diabetic retinopathy. They include having blurred vision due to macular oedema and severe sight loss due to bleeding within the eye and retinal detachment.

How can we stop this?

The UK’s main eye research charity, Fight for Sight, is investing £1.2m into a number of different projects across the country, which will help to further our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the condition and develop new treatments.

Fight for Sight funded research at University of Liverpool is focusing on the early detection by developing an automated image grading system carried out by a computer to grade the digital retinal photographs taken during screening Manual grading currently adopted by UK diabetic eye screening programmes is costly, subjective and requires extensive training. The development of computer programs that can grade images like human graders is expected to reduce cost and improve patient care in the UK and worldwide.

Researchers funded by Fight for Sight are studying the role of retinal inflammation in the development of diabetic retinopathy at Queen’s University Belfast They have identified a molecule that reduces inflammation and they plan to increase this molecule in the diabetic retina using a gene therapy approach. Enhancing the expression of this molecule may be a novel therapeutic approach to treat the early stages of the disease.

Current treatments for diabetic retinopathy

Traditional treatments normally involve laser eye surgery or invasive injections into the eye. Surgery is also carried out in severe cases to clear blood, repair detached retinas and remove scar tissue.

Several potential therapies are being developed to prevent and treat the complications caused by diabetic retinopathy, including a type of light therapy that aims to reduce leakage of fluid in the central retina.

PolyPhotonix has developed a non-invasive treatment for diabetic retinopathy, called Noctura 400, a mask that is designed to be worn at night. The company is donating 5% of all revenues from private UK sales to Fight for Sight to help support eye research.

Keeping good control of diabetes lowers the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This includes controlling blood sugar level, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Join the Fight for Sight this Diabetes Week and support eye research to create a future you can see text EYES08 to 70070.