In last night’s episode of Emmerdale, the character Kerry Wyatt’s experienced sudden blindness in one eye caused by retinopathy.
We worked closely with their scriptwriters who approached us when they were considering a storyline around retinopathy. Although they did take on board some feedback that we provided, they have portrayed the onset of retinopathy in an extreme way, which is not commonly seen in reality.
We want to make clear to people with diabetes who watched the show that this situation is very unlikely and is an extreme case.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Retinopathy is damage to the retina, which is the 'seeing' part at the back of the eye. It is a complication that can affect people with diabetes and is the most common cause of preventable sight loss among people of working age in the UK.
Initial changes to the retina (background retinopathy) can go on without affecting your sight, and sight loss due to retinopathy is unlikely to come on suddenly in the way that it was depicted in last night’s episode. Usually, a person would find that their vision slowly deteriorates over a period of time. Dark patches increase as retinopathy spreads and there can be blurring and loss of the centre of vision. In extreme cases, retinopathy can result in blindness.
High blood glucose levels are the main cause of retinopathy, but high blood fats and high blood pressure also play a part.
To help prevent any eye problems developing or existing problems from getting worse it is important that people with diabetes attend their annual retinal screening appointments, keep blood glucose, blood fats and blood pressure levels at agreed targets, quit smoking, eat a healthy, balanced diet and take regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
Retinopathy frequently has no symptoms until it is well advanced, meaning a person may not be aware of changes to the retina until their vision has been impaired. That’s why it’s so important people with diabetes attend their annual retinal screening, so that any case of retinopathy can be detected early. Retinopathy can’t be cured, but further damage can be prevented, and the earlier it is identified, the more chance there is of this.
Ninety per cent of cases of sight loss could be avoided if identified early enough and treated appropriately.