Diabetes is on the rise in the UK and accounts for almost a tenth of the annual drugs bill in England alone. Diabetes symptoms vary, but what exactly is this chronic condition and can it damage your vision? Let’s find out more!
What exactly is diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious, long-term illness caused by too much glucose in the blood. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin (a hormone which controls the sugar level of each cell) and is usually caused when insulin-producing cells are attacked by the body’s immune system. This is known as an auto-immune process and can lead to numerous health problems. Watching your diet and injecting insulin are two ways to control type 1 diabetes, but patients must go for regular check-ups.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce the necessary amount of insulin or when the body’s cells do not react to insulin. It’s associated with obesity and tends to be more common in older people. Around 90 per cent of UK adults with diabetes have this form of the condition and many patients are suffering without realising. Those with type 2 diabetes can keep health problems under control by maintaining a healthy weight and monitoring their sugar intake. If lifestyle changes don’t help, a drug called Metformin might be issued.
What are the warning signs of diabetes?
Diabetes has a number of symptoms including increased thirst; extreme tiredness; frequent urination (during the day and at night); weight loss despite a healthy appetite; skin infections; tingling or numb feet or fingers; sores that are slow to heal; a number of irritating infections and sudden changes to vision. All patients are different but it’s important to visit your doctor or optometrist if you’re worried.
If you’re experiencing symptoms, your doctor might test your urine for excess glucose. If too much sugar is found it could be sign that your body’s not producing or using insulin effectively. A blood test and a HbA1c test which examines sugar-levels might also be carried out to confirm if you’ve got diabetes. If you have you’ll be told whether it’s type 1 or 2 and will be given healthcare advice.
Can diabetes affect my vision?
Diabetes can seriously affect your eyesight, so it’s important to book an eye test at least once a year. Increased glucose levels can affect the lens inside your eye and might affect your prescription. An eye care specialist will also look for hereditary glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases – so it’s well worth going to the opticians.
Unfortunately, diabetics are also at risk of an optical condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This can cause the blood vessels on the back of the eye to leak or become totally blocked and is extremely dangerous. An optometrist will look for signs of leakage using an ophthalmoscope and might put drops in your eye if they’re worried. If there’s any sign of leakage you’ll be referred to the eye hospital where they can treat the leak with a laser. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy there are often no symptoms, so it’s important to visit your optometrist.