Eye health changes are common complications of diabetes. These changes can include cataracts and bleeding in the back of the eye, diabetic retinopathy, as well as secondary glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy is a series of changes in the blood vessels of the retina at the back of the eye that can cause bleeding and fluid leakage/swelling. This can cause sight threatening complications. Both Type 1 and 2 diabetics are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. About 700,000 Australians have diabetes. Between 40-45% of all diagnosed diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy.
How diabetes has affected my eyes
Mr O’Brien from Biggera Waters on the Gold Coast shared with us his story and how diabetes has affected his eyes and lifestyle. Mr O’Brien has been a patient of Envision Optical Optometrist, Andrew Bowden for the past 10 years and has regular 6-month exams to monitor his eye sight and eye health. His diabetes is kept in check with 6-monthly blood tests with his GP to monitor cholesterol and liver function amongst others, with everything coming up perfect. Unfortunately, his eye sight is not.
About 12-14 years ago was when his Optometrist on the Sunshine Coast, where he was living at the time, said he may have a problem and should see an eye specialist, At that stage, Mr O’Brien was using reading glasses and didn’t have any problems with his eye health, although did feel he may need a change in script. After seeing the specialist, it was determined he had problems with the back of his eyes and would need laser work. Six months later he needed more and progressively from there, more and more treatment was given.
The last two years especially, Mr O’Brien has felt his sight is deteriorating. The family home has changed from a house with steps, to one that has less steps. Mr O’Brien explains, “Going up steps is okay, but down stairs is a problem as I am likely to miss one”. He doesn’t always see gutters, but will when they are painted yellow, so has found two shopping centres that he will always go to as they have the gutters clearly marked. He said it saves him from any embarrassing falls. Night time driving has also become harder over the past year which concerns Mr O’Brien as his night vision is deteriorating.
Before becoming a patient with Andrew at Envision Optical, Mr O’Brien was only wearing reading glasses. He now wears sunglasses during the day to help with the glare of the strong Queensland sun. A hat helps with taking some of the brightness away, however he has found since wearing the sunglasses it has made a big difference with the glare not getting into his eyes. The glare, he explains, make his vision, “hopeless”. The sunglasses have been a big help.
Twelve months ago, his specialist explained there was nothing more that can be done with the back of his eyes now pitted with scars. Mr O’Brien is hopeful for new technology and breakthroughs to help with his sight and eye health.
How important is a yearly eye exam for those with diabetes?
The importance of having a yearly eye exam for those with diabetes is highlighted through cases such as Mr O’Brien. He only needed glasses for reading and had no other symptoms with his GP checks were all coming through perfect. Diabetic retinopathy is usually asymptomatic and will only be detected by a thorough eye examination. The retina is carefully examined through dilated pupils to check for any blood vessel changes and areas of bleeding or fluid accumulation. This should be done annually. The retinal condition is documented by digital photography and the macular area is scanned for swelling with OCT retinal and macular scans.