Below is an overview of what we know now regarding diabetic retinopathy and COVID-19. This will be kept up to date regarding any developments.

Is diabetes considered a serious underlying health risk for COVID-19?

Generally speaking, getting ‘ill’ can cause the glucose in your blood to spike. This is part of your body’s response to fighting off an illness, whether that’s an infection, stress or catching a common cold. However, for those with diabetes, this glucose spike can cause a problem.

If you have no insulin to convert the glucose in your blood (Type 1 diabetes) or you can’t produce enough insulin/the insulin you do produce doesn’t work efficiently (Type 2 diabetes), your glucose levels can become too high. Your body is working overtime to fight the illness, making it harder to manage your diabetes.

As such, those with diabetes may be at risk of developing a severe illness if they contract the coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2) due to the compound effect of diabetic symptoms. However, the effects can still naturally vary from person to person.

Does having diabetic retinopathy mean I’m more at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that can occur due to high blood sugar levels damaging the retina.

While there are concerns that COVID-19 might impact people with diabetes more severely, there is currently no evidence to suggest that diabetic retinopathy increases the likelihood of an individual contracting the disease in the first place, or of developing a severe case.

It’s important to note that there is little research in this area, but Specsavers will be keeping you informed about any changes.

What treatment options are still available to me at this time?

Firstly, please do not visit your doctor, pharmacy or hospital if you have coronavirus symptoms — even if you have an appointment.

If you're already having treatment for diabetic retinopathy, and you don't have coronavirus symptoms, then your appointments should still carry on. However, most routine appointments, like your annual diabetes review, have been cancelled or postponed. But you should be able to reschedule once things go back to normal.

It's okay that you won't be going to your eye screening and routine foot checks in these circumstances. However, if you're worried about going to your clinic or hospital at this time, or want to check whether your appointment is still going ahead, all you need to do is call the number on your appointment letter.

Are there any at-home actions I can take to help manage diabetic retinopathy?

Managing your diabetic retinopathy at home is a matter of managing your diabetes itself. In this case, you need to follow the advice of your doctor, practice nurse or diabetes care team regarding your medication.

If you routinely check your blood sugar at home, keep that routine up. If you don't check your blood sugar levels at home, please be aware of the signs of a hyperglycaemia (low blood sugar), which include:

  • Passing more urine than normal (especially at night)
  • Being very thirsty
  • Headaches, tiredness and lethargy.

You should contact your doctor if you have these symptoms.

Stay hydrated – have plenty of unsweetened drinks and eat little and often.

For more information on checking your diabetes at home, please refer to the Sociedad Española de Diabetes.   

Remember, your diabetic retinopathy can usually be managed at home with regular treatment (which should still be available to you) and care at home through diabetes management.

However, should you believe that your diabetic retinopathy has progressed to potentially sight-threatening, of which there are two types known as diabetic macular oedema (DMO) and proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), please contact your local hospital or eye clinic immediately.

In the meantime, you can read more diabetic retinopathy here, and for more COVID-19 information, visit our care page.

References

1. Medline Plus, (2018). Complicaciones de la diabetes a largo plazo [Online]. Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/ency/patientinstructions/000327.htm [accessed 15/04/2020] 

2. Sociedad Española de Diabetes (2020) Coronavirus y Diabetes. [Online]. Available at: https://fundacion.sediabetes.org/index.php/2020/03/24/coronavirus-y-diabetes-preguntas-y-respuestas/ [accessed 15/04/2020]

3. The New England Journal of Medicine. (2020). Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/1... [accessed 08/04/2020]

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