Info for Health Professionals
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is a common cause of vision loss in working age Australians.
If you have diabetes you need to know about diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease caused by complications of diabetes. After 10 or 15 years most people have signs of mild damage to the back of the eye that we call retinopathy.
Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels that nourish the retina, the seeing part at the back of the eye. In people with diabetes the:
- retinal blood vessels may expand and leak fluid
- abnormal new blood vessels may grow
- blood vessels may break and cause bleeding
These changes may result in vision loss or blindness.
Who is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy?
Every person with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer a person has diabetes the more likely the person is to develop diabetic retinopathy. Regular eye exams when first diagnosed with diabetes and then at least every two years will reduce your risk of vision loss and blindness. Tight control of your diabetes can delay the development of retinopathy
What are the symptoms?
There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. Vision may not change until the disease is advanced.
How is it detected?
Diabetic retinopathy is detected during an examination of the back of the eye through dilated (enlarged) pupils and by testing your vision. An ophthalmologist, optometrist, your family doctor or a health worker may conduct eye- screening examinations. Diabetic retinopathy can also be detected during screening with a special camera that photographs the back of the eye without the use of dilating drops.
Can diabetic retinopathy be treated?
Yes. When sight-threatening changes are detected you will be referred to an ophthalmologist (an eye specialist) for further assessment and possible treatment. Laser treatment is used to treat retinopathy. Laser is very effective at maintaining vision but it cannot always restore vision that has already been lost.
Can vision loss from diabetic retinopathy be prevented?
Yes, vision loss and potential blindness can be prevented if diabetic retinopathy is detected and treated early. By keeping blood glucose levels within the normal range, you minimise the risk of vision loss. Take action before you notice any eye problems.
HAVE YOUR EYES CHECKED AS SOON AS YOU KNOW YOU HAVE DIABETES AND AT LEAST EVERY TWO YEARS AFTER THAT.