People with diabetes are at greater risk of certain conditions that can cause damage to the eyes. These may eventually lead to poor vision or even blindness.

Known collectively as diabetic eye disease, these include conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular oedema, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Normal vision Normal vision
Advanced diabetic retinopathy Advanced diabetic retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy affects the retina, which is like the camera film of the eye. This is a disease of the small blood vessels supplying the retina. The vessels close prematurely, leak blood or fat or grow abnormally. These vascular changes are occurring within all the body’s organs in a diabetic patient and may lead to high blood pressure, numbness in the feet, kidney failure, strokes and heart attacks.

Fortunately, your ophthalmologist at Metwest Eye Centre can view these vessels directly and painlessly within the eye and can predict the health of the other organs. Once diabetes is diagnosed it is important for the eyes to be examined regularly for diabetic retinopathy. This is useful not only in preventing blindness, but also to help your doctors keep your general health at its best.

Diabetic retinopathy

Our specialists can take direct and pain free images of the vessels in your eyes

When should I have my eyes examined?

At first diagnosis of your diabetes – this is important to determine your baseline health, as you may not know how long your sugars have been high.

Children with diabetes are usually examined at 10 years old, or 5 years after diagnosis (which ever is later).

Pregnant women should be seen in the first trimester.

If all is well, we will need to see you every 12 to 18 months. If there are changes occurring within the eye or if there is a deterioration of your general health, we may need to see you more often.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Most often there will be no symptoms that you would notice despite the diabetic changes slowly occurring at the back of your eye.

Retinopathy may be present at the diagnosis of your diabetes, particularly in late-onset diabetes where the blood sugars gradually rise and it is difficult to pick the exact time when the diabetes started.

How do you assess for diabetic retinopathy?

You will have your vision checked, as well as the pressure in your eye measured (see glaucoma).

The pupils will then be enlarged (dilated) with drops so our ophthalmologist can view the retina.

What is fluorescein angiography?

This is a test in which we inject a dye (fluorescein) into your arm to find out if any of the blood vessels in the retina are leaking, and whereabouts they are. After injecting the dye the photographs of the retina are taken which help diagnose diabetic retinopathy and guide the doctor as to what treatment to use.

You do not need to fast before this test, though some people feel queasy during the injection. Your skin will tinged yellow by the dye, but this will only last 24 – 48 hours as you pass the dye from your urine (which will be bright yellow).

Image of the retina using fluorescein angiography

What can I do to look after my vision?

Good control of your sugars has been shown to delay the development of retinopathy. Your local doctor and dietitian can help you with this as well as giving attention to ceasing smoking, your weight, blood pressure, dietary fats and cholesterol. All these factors maintain your general health as well as your vision. Lipidl has also been shown to reduce the progression of more advanced retinopathy.

Regular eye review will detect retinopathy early and allow for timely treatment, thus minimising the risk of severe visual loss.

AntiVEGF eye injections and laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy

Leaking blood vessels are usually treated with AntiVEGF injections. The antiVEGF reduces the permeability of these vessels. The laser is used to treat the growth of new abnormal retinal vessels within the eye. Both treatments are well supported by evidence.

Good control of blood sugars, cholesterol, weight and blood pressure are essential to slow the development of retinopathy and to help treat it once it has occurred. Cessation of smoking is highly recommended.

Medications that regulate cholesterol and triglycerides have been shown to slow the progression of more advanced diabetic retinopathy. They are usually prescribed by your general practitioner.

Controlling blood sugar levels is an important part of treating diabetic retinopathy.

Injections and laser treatment can slow the process of eye damage.

Have you been diagnosed with diabetes?

Make an appointment with our clinic today to get a specialist assessment and personalised advice.

For appointments and enquiries please phone  02 9622 7667   or   02 9672 1410

Monday - Friday 8:00am to 5:00pm

17 Hereward Highway
Blacktown NSW 2148

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Fax   (02) 9622 7521

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