Diabetes symptoms: The early sign in your eyes not to ignore or risk blindness – study

Type 2 diabetes can be a 'devastating diagnosis' says expert

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It is estimated more than 4.9 million people suffer from some form of diabetes in the UK. The condition is a risk factor for many serious health complications, such as kidney disease and blood pressure. In extreme cases, it could also lead to blindness. However, detection of early signs in the eyes, such as floaters, could signal and prevent someone’s risk of diabetic blindness.


Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels in the retina, the most common diabetic eye disease and leading cause of blindness and vision loss in adults between 35-50.

The growth of scar tissue can cause eye floaters, which are spots in the vision which may appear as black or grey specks, strings, or cobwebs that drift when you move your eyes.

Other symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Gradually worsening vision
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Shapes floating in your field of bison
  • Blurred or patchy eye vision
  • Eye pain and redness

One in three people living with diabetes has some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and every person who has diabetes is at risk of developing it.

READ MORE: Diabetes type 2 symptoms: Four sensations in the feet that signal high blood sugar damage

Orbis UK outlined the four stages of diabetic retinopathy:

Mild non-proliferative retinopathy: In the earliest stage of the disease, tiny bulges in the retina’s blood vessels can leak fluid into the retina. This can also lead to swelling in the macula causing blood vision.

Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy: During this stage, blood vessels in the retina swell and may become blocked. This can contribute to diabetic macular edema, which is a build-up of fluid in the macula region of the retina – causing vision changes or vision loss.

Severe non-proliferative retinopathy: At this stage, an increasing number of blood vessels in the eye become blocked. As a result, the retina is signalled to grow new blood vessels. If the blood vessels lose off completely, this can lead to blurry vision with dark spots (floaters).

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy: In the final stage, the retina is deprived of oxygen and new blood vessels grow inside the retina and into the vitreous gel – the fluid that fills the eyes. As these blood vessels are delicate, they may begin to leak and bleed.

Scar tissue may form, causing retinal detachments, where the retina pulls away from underlying tissue.

Retinal detachment may cause spotty vision, flashes of lights or severe vision loss.

New research, conducted at the Indiana University School of Optometry, found that these changes could be measured with specialised optical techniques and computer analysis.

The team noted that the detection of biomarkers of the sight-threatening condition could in return lead to the early identification of people at risk for diabetes or visual impairment.

Study co-author, Ann E.Elsner, professor of at the IU School of Optometry, said: “Early detection with painless methods might help identify undiagnosed patients early enough to diminish the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes.

“Many algorithms use any image information that differs between diabetic patients and controls, which can identify which individuals might have diabetes, but these can be nonspecific.

“Our method can be combined with the other AI methods to provide early information localised to specific retinal layers or types of tissues, which allows inclusion of information not analysed in the other algorithms.”

Diabetic retinopathy prevention:According to the NHS, adopting a few lifestyle changes can improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing retinopathy.

The health body said: “Eating a healthy, balanced diet – in particular, try to cut down on salt, fat and sugar.

“If you’re overweight, you should aim for a BMI of 18.5 and 24.9.

“Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking or cycling, a week. Doing 10,000 steps a day can be a good way to reach this target.”

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