About seven per cent of Australians 25 years and over have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This number rises dramatically as we age. Almost one quarter of all people over the age of 75 have diabetes. Within 15 years of diagnosis, most of these people (more than 70 per cent) will go on to experience changes in their eyes.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing eye complications which, if left untreated, can lead to poor vision and blindness. Because diabetes is a disease of the circulatory system – the body’s system of blood vessels – and the eyes are home to a complex network of blood vessels, high blood sugar levels can cause damage. The good news is that 98 per cent of serious vision loss can be prevented with regular eye examinations and early treatment.
Regular consultations with an optometrist or eye specialist (at least once every two years) should be an essential element of every diabetic’s management plan. Identifying conditions early may mean that any treatment required is more effective in limiting any damage that could otherwise occur.
Persistently high blood sugar levels can increase the risk of serious eye conditions in people with diabetes, including cataracts, glaucoma and macular oedema. Diabetic retinopathy is, however, the most common ocular condition caused by diabetes.
Diabetic retinopathy affects the retina of the eye (the light sensitive portion at the back of the eye) and is characterised by damage to the small blood vessels that nourish the retina. Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive disease and the better the blood sugar control of the diabetic, the less likely the disease is to progress. However, anyone who has diabetes (type 1 or type 2) can develop diabetic retinopathy, even if blood sugar is well-controlled. This is an important reason why diabetics should have regular eye examinations from the time they are diagnosed.
These diabetes-related eye complications often have no signs or symptoms and there may be no obvious vision troubles until the condition is quite advanced. To monitor your eye health and identify symptoms of diabetes before they become serious, regular eye examinations are recommended, usually every 1 to 2 years. The examination will often involve dilation of the pupils of the eyes with eyedrops, to ensure your optometrist gains the best view of your retina.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and complying with medication requirements and medical check-ups will help to keep your blood sugar levels under control and in turn look after your eye health.