It’s Diabetes Awareness Week and we want to share some useful information with you all about how diabetes can affect the eyes. Diabetes is a serious chronic health condition which occurs when there is too much glucose in the blood. Over time high glucose levels can damage the body’s blood vessels and nerves, leading to long term health complications such as heart, kidney and eye disease like diabetic retinopathy, and nerve damage in the feet.

The main types of diabetes are: 

  • Type 1 diabetes  
  • Type 2 diabetes  
  • Pre-diabetes 
  • Gestational diabetes  

Diabetes and the eye

If you suffer from diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), you may develop eye changes at some point in time.  These changes can range from simple visual fluctuations to more complex conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.  Fluctuating vision in diabetic patients can vary from day to day and can be best alleviated through good blood sugar control. Diabetic retinopathy is a more serious issue and can potentially cause vision loss.  This condition develops when there is damage to the delicate blood vessels at the back of the eye. 

What is Diabetic retinopathy?

There is as many as 1.7 million Australians that have diabetes, and of these up to 35% exhibit signs of diabetic retinopathy.  The risk for developing diabetic retinopathy is dependent on the duration of the disease and glycemic control.  The longer a person has had diabetes, along with poorly controlled blood sugar, results in a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy in some form.  The most effective way to protect yourself from premature diabetic retinopathy is to consistently monitor and control blood sugar levels.  It is also essential to have regular eye testing so any changes can be detected early.



How does diabetic retinopathy effect vision?

Vision is most severely affected when diabetic retinopathy causes macular oedema (simply known as diabetic macular oedema).  Diabetic macular oedema is caused by damaged blood vessels, which leak fluid underneath the macula.  This then leads to swelling in the macular region, resulting in blurred and distorted vision. 

How can I prevent diabetic retinopathy?

  • Controlled and stable blood sugar levels (4-7mmol/L on average).  Regular visits to your GP or self-monitoring your blood sugar levels is very important.
  • HbA1c of under 7%.
  • Controlled blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Awareness of benefits of good diet and physical activity,

Your GP will be able to provide further information on what monitoring will work best for you.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

If you notice any changes in your vision, consult your optometrist.  Here are some things to look out for:

  • Blurred or distorted vision that does not improve with glasses or contact lenses.
  • Issues driving (day or night), watching TV, or recognising people’s faces.
  • Extreme sensitivity to glare (photophobia).

How do you treat diabetic retinopathy?

Should any treatment be required, you will need to be referred to an ophthalmologist.  Treatment options include:

  • Observation and blood sugar stabilisation for mild retinopathy.
  • Laser to seal any leaky blood vessels to prevent them from additional leaking.
  • An injection if there is any diabetic macular oedema to reduce macular swelling.
  • Steroid implants can also reduce the swelling in diabetic macular oedema.

What other side effects on the eyes does diabetes have?

  • Cataract: people who suffer from diabetes are 2-5 times more likely to develop significant cataract.  Additionally, cataract may develop at a younger age for a diabetic when compared to a non-diabetic.
  • Glaucoma: uncontrolled diabetes can have the capacity to cause a for of glaucoma, known as neovascular glaucoma.
  • Double vision: this is a less common complication from diabetes which occurs when the muscles surrounding the eye are damaged.

How do we check your eyes for diabetes?

Here at Envision Optical we recommend you visit us every 12 months for a diabetic eye examination, which involves putting dilating drops in your eyes to get a better view of the back of the eye.  We can then accurately assess the health of your eyes and use retinal photography to identify if there are any complications arising from your diabetes.  Regular testing means that any issues will be found early, resulting in quicker referral and treatment times and better visual outcomes. 

To book an appointment click here.