The back of the eye, or retina, has nerve tissue that enables us to see. In Type 2 diabetes high blood sugar levels cause damage to nerve tissue, as well as the blood vessels feeding the tissue. Such damage can thin the retina, which can lead to loss of vision. Until recently diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness has been thought of as primarily a disease of the blood vessels in the back of the eye or retina. Treatment has been aimed at coagulating weak blood vessels and removing blood from the inside of the eye.
New studies have found nerve damage in the eyes takes place before changes are seen in the blood vessels. Finding nerve damage and treating it early could be a boon to people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in danger of losing their sight. In December of 2017, the journal Investigational Ophthalmology and Visual Science reported on a study dealing with retinal and corneal, the transparent front part of the eye, nerve degeneration in Type 2 diabetes. Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology and other research institutions in Australia, United Kingdom, and Iran compared…
- 187 persons with diabetes, and
- 54 non-diabetic participants.
Those people in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy showed nerve degeneration in both their retinas and corneas before blood vessel damage could develop. The earlier we can detect this nerve damage, the earlier we can begin to treat it.
A study reported in the medical journal Ophthalmic Surgery, Lasers, Imaging Retina (OSLI Retina), found testing the urine for protein can help to predict thinning of the retina. Sixty participants were classified into three groups…
- people with Type 2 diabetes who had albumin, a kind of protein, in their urine,
- those with Type 2 diabetes with normal urine, and
- non-diabetic individuals.
The first group had significantly thinner retinas than the other two groups.
Albumin in the urine provides a clue diabetic kidney disease is present, so damage to the kidneys takes place at the same time as damage to the eyes. Finding protein in the urine requires a relatively simple, inexpensive test, which can be performed at home by patients. Once the protein is discovered in the urine, then it is time for the diabetic to have more elaborate testing at the ophthalmologist’s office.
How, then to treat retinal and corneal nerve damage as soon as it is detected? At the moment controlling blood sugar levels…
- with diet,
- exercise and
when needed are what is available. Further research could yield ways of treating diabetic retinopathy in its earliest stages.