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The number of Australians with diabetes is on the rise. The latest figures show that 1.2 million Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes, with another staggering 2 million with pre-diabetes (a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal).

Diabetes is not only associated with an increase in the incidence of cardiovascular disease, it can also cause significant nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage (nephropathy) and eye damage (retinopathy). 

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes which can result in vision loss and in some cases, blindness. This eye condition is caused by diabetes mellitus where high blood glucose levels result in damage to the blood vessels of the retina. You are more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy the longer you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or if you have poor control of your blood glucose level.

People who have diabetes are at risk of diabetic retinopathy if they have:

  • Poorly managed diabetes, high blood glucose level
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Long history of having diabetes

Early stages of diabetic retinopathy (background diabetic retinopathy) may not cause any vision problems and the condition can be monitored with regular eye examinations and adequate blood glucose control. People with Type 1 (early onset) diabetes are at higher risks of developing the more severe, advanced cases of proliferative diabetic retinopathy due to increased severity of diabetic tissue damage and duration of diabetes. In proliferative diabetic retinopathy, swelling of the retina, haemorrhages of the retinal blood vessels and tractional retinal detachment can occur and potentially lead to permanent vision loss.

Type 2 diabetes usually presents later in life and is often undiagnosed. Data from Diabetes Australia suggest that there are approximately 500,000 Australians who have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. Patients with Type 2 diabetes may develop distorted vision from diabetic macular oedema (swelling of the retina).

Symptoms from diabetic retinopathy may include:

  • Blurred, distorted vision
  • Fluctuating vision (thought to be due to fluctuating blood glucose level)
  • Seeing dark spots, floaters, dark patches in vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Pain in the eye from associated glaucoma

What are the treatments for diabetic retinopathy?

Depending on the type and severity of diabetic retinopathy, treatment options include intravitreal therapy, panretinal photocoagulation laser surgery and vitreoretinal microsurgery.  Our specialists will perform the most comprehensive examination of your eyes and advise of the appropriate treatment plan, in consultation with your GP and/or endocrinologist. It may take some time and multiple treatments to obtain an improvement in vision but it is important to persevere.

What is the take-home message?

If you have diabetes, regular eye examination to screen for diabetic retinopathy as well as keeping your blood glucose level in check is important. To keep blood glucose level in check with Type-2 diabetes, there is recent data that shows a diet low in sugar consumption, high in protein, natural saturated fats may provide better control of Type 2 diabetes. Consult with your GP or dietitian and discuss if a diet containing meat, fish, dairy, green vegetables and healthy fats but low in sugar consumption will be beneficial for you.

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes or if you have noticed vision problems from poorly-controlled or long-standing diabetes, contact us at City Eye Centre by phoning (07) 3831 6888 to organize an appointment. Our eye doctors specialize in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and will provide you with the most appropriate treatment plan.