Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes and eyes:

Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic eye disease. Most people consider sight to be their most precious sense so it is critical to be aware of the risk of diabetic eye disease and to understand how to prevent its onset. For those who already have diabetic eye disease, there are steps to take to reduce the risk of further vision loss.

The management of diabetes can be difficult. Living with diabetic retinopathy and the potential impact on vision can be challenging. However, most people with diabetic retinopathy should keep most, if not all vision, providing it is diagnosed early and all steps are taken to keep it under control.

How does diabetes affect the eye?

Diabetes can affect the eye in a number of ways:

– Transient blurring of vision: The unusual changes in blood glucose levels resulting from diabetes can affect the shape of the lens inside the eye, hence changing the focus, especially when blood glucose levels are high. This can result in blurring of vision, which comes and goes over the day, depending on blood glucose levels. This is generally a short-term effect but may impact some people for several months.

– Diabetic Retinopathy: This is the most common and most serious diabetic eye diagnosis. It is the leading cause o blindness in working-age Australians.

– Cataract: A longer-term effect of diabetes is that the lens of the eye can become cloudy. this is call cataract. Cataracts can form in anyone, but they are more frequent and occur earlier in life in people with diabetes.

– Glaucoma: Diabetes increases the risk of glaucoma which results in progressive damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. While this normally develops slowly, without symptoms in the early stages, it can lead to blindness if not detected early and treated effectively.

What happens in diabetic retinopathy?

Early stages:

Over time, high blood glucose levels can lead to damage of the small specialised blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. The vessels become weaker and may leak clear fluid and/or become blocked. This is called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy and normally does not affect vision.

How do you know if you have diabetic retinopathy?

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually have no symptoms. However, once the disease reaches the proliferative stage, vision loss can occur rapidly and can be permanent.

This makes it essential for all those living with diabetes to have a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least every two years, or more often if recommended, and to follow professional advice to reduce the risks of diabetic retinopathy.

The following symptoms may not necessarily be signs of diabetic retinopathy, but should always be checked:

– dark spots or holes in the visual field

– blurred, distorted, dim or double vision

– difficulty seeing at night, or increased sensitivity to lights and glare

– frequent changes in glasses prescription

– bright halos around lights

– flashes and large floaters (floaters are specks in the form of dots, circles, lines or cobwebs that move across the field of vision. These will be most noticeable when looking at a white wall or clear sky.