Diabetes and your eyes

Regular eye examinations are an important part of managing diabetes.

Current estimates suggest that around 1.7 million Australians are affected by diabetes. Almost all those with type 1 diabetes and more than 60% of those with type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic eye disease within 20 years of diagnosis. Diabetic retinopathy is the most commonly seen form of diabetic eye disease, and is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults worldwide.

The two major risk factors for developing diabetic eye disease, which is one of the most common complications of diabetes, is the duration of diabetes from diagnosis, and blood sugar control.

An eye examination with an optometrist is important for early detection of diabetic eye disease. The current NHMRC clinical guidelines recommend a diabetes eye examination every 12-24 months, depending on the risk factors mentioned above. Once any diabetic eye disease is detected, 3-6 monthly review is recommended, or 12 monthly if severity is minimal.

Diabetes is a complex chronic disease that requires attention from several different angles. Optometrists work as part of a team and communicate results of the eye exam with your general practitioner or family doctor (with your consent).

When optometrists find diabetic eye disease that requires treatment, they will refer patients on to ophthalmologists (eye specialists/surgeons).

What can diabetes do to my eyes?

The most common form of diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy, which will be graded on severity. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss.

Other forms of diabetic eye disease include:

  • Macular oedema
  • Cataracts
  • Retinal detachment
  • Fluctuating vision

What does a Diabetes Eye Exam involve?

The most important part of a Diabetes eye exam is to check the retina- the optometrist will use eye drops to dilate the pupils, so it is advised that you bring sunglasses along for after the eye exam.

Retinal photographs may be taken to document changes in the retina. In some cases, we may use an Optical Coherence Tomographer to measure retinal thickness (as shown in picture above), for example in swelling from macular oedema.

We will also check for cataracts, measure internal eye pressure, and look out for other eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.

For more information on diabetes and the eyes, check the following websites:

Out of Sight – A Report on Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes Victoria – Eye Health