|Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition in which the sugar levels of the blood are persistently high due to a lack of the hormone insulin.
It affects 3-5% of the Australian population, with many Diabetics unaware they have the condition. Typical symptoms of adult onset Diabetes are thirst, frequent urination, tiredness, fluctuating vision and susceptibility to infections.
Despite advances in detection and treatment of Diabetes, it remains the leading cause of blindness in the working-age population. The affect of Diabetes on your eyes may be short-term and/or long-term.
Short term -Vision levels can fluctuate, become blurry and cause changes in your glasses prescription when blood sugar levels are high or fluctuating significantly. For this reason, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will not prescribe new glasses while your blood sugar levels are unstable. Long term – Diabetes can cause damage to the retina. The retina is like the film in a camera – it is a layer at back of the eye which detects light and sends the “picture ” to the brain. It is responsible for what we see. Damage caused by Diabetes is called Diabetic Retinopathy and may impact the retina in a number of areas:
Non-proliferative (Background) Diabetic Retinopathy
Early changes and damage to the blood vessels within the retina. This condition does not need treatment.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy
Usually occurs in the later stages of Diabetes. Blood vessels in the retina break and leak.
Symptoms may range from no change in vision to a few spots in front of the eye to an obvious decrease in vision. Strong laser is used on the areas of the retina where leakage is occurring.
Significant bleeding may lead to detachment of the retina from the rest of the eye (Retinal Detachment).
Occurs where blood vessels are damaged and leaking near the area of our central vision (the Macula). Leaking blood vessels cause swelling and “waterlogging” of the macula, which can significantly distort your vision. Delicate laser treatment may be used to try to reduce the leakage from the blood vessels.
Diabetes may also make you more susceptible to other eye conditions that occur across the general population including cataracts, glaucoma, blockages of the arteries and veins in the retina & optic nerve, nerve palsies of the eye muscles and loss of visual field due to stroke.
The majority of Diabetics do not require any treatment and maintain good vision throughout their life.
It is estimated that around 22% of of Diabetics will develop Diabetic Retinopathy, with only 13% requiring treatment.
People with well controlled Diabetes are less likely to have damage to their eyes. Lifestyle can make a significant difference in reducing the development of eye problems – keep good control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol issues, maintain a healthy diet and be a non-smoker.
Some eye conditions have few or no symptoms, or may have such gradual changes to your vision that it is not easily noticeable.
For this reason, Diabetics should have their eyes checked within a few months of diagnosis and then reassessed every 2 years.
A recent study by Melbourne university revealed that 50% of Diabetics are not correctly screened for Diabetic eye problems. An Optometrist or Ophthalmologist can assess your eyes fully, and arrange for treatment where necessary.
Early detection of an eye problems is key to preventing permanent vision loss.
PDF of Diabetes handout