Diabetes is often associated with health issues including heart disease, kidney disease and amputations, and not many people know it could also lead to vision loss and is the most commonest cause of blindness in working-age adults.
Consultant Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City, Dr Peh Khaik Kee said approximately 64 per cent of Malaysians are not aware that diabetes causes eye disease.
He said one in five Malaysians are diabetic which equals an estimated 4.6 million Malaysians, and diabetic eye disease affects one in three diabetics.
“From this figure, one-third will experience vision-threatening eye disease, suggesting that 500,000 Malaysians have a vision-threatening diabetic eye disease,” he said in a statement.
Dr Peh said diabetes affects the eye in several ways including changes to the lens leading to blurry vision, increased pressure in the eye leading to glaucoma, and damage to the nerves that control the eye muscles leading to double vision.
It could also cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina leading to diabetic retinopathy, which is the commonest eye condition associated with diabetes, he said.
Dr Peh said diabetic retinopathy has also become of epidemic proportions as Malaysia spends 16 per cent of its national healthcare budget on diabetes; placing it amongst the top 10 countries in the world with the highest percentage of healthcare budget spent on diabetes.
“Many people with diabetes do not undergo regular eye exams to check for signs of the condition, while diabetic retinopathy does not present with any particular symptoms, and does not cause loss of vision until very late on.
“Therefore, there are a large number of patients present at a severe stage and that is where the importance of screening comes in,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said vision loss is almost entirely preventable with regular screening and early intervention.
According to Dr Peh previously, a standard eye exam for diabetic retinopathy involved a slit-lamp microscope where light is focused into the retina which can be very uncomfortable, especially if the person is naturally light sensitive.
“These days we have ultra-widefield fundus cameras that can capture a single, 150-degree field view of the retina; three times more field view than a standard camera and patients do not experience the blurring associated with dilating drops and they are not subjected to long, uncomfortable slit-lamp examinations,” he explained.
Dr Peh said injections to treat diabetic retinopathy also produce good outcomes for early-stage diabetic retinopathy, but patients need to undergo the procedure intensively depending on the type of drug once every four or eight weeks for at least three years.
“There are also new surgery techniques and instruments that are less invasive with better outcomes such as surgery that can be a pre-emptive step that offers a huge leap forward in overtaking the disease,” he said.
He also advised those with a family history of diabetes should have their blood sugar screened, and those who have been diagnosed with diabetes should see an ophthalmologist to have their retina examined, to detect any potential vision-threatening eye disease and prevent permanent loss of vision.