Diabetes is a complex chronic health condition characterised by high blood glucose levels. Overtime diabetes can affect your eyes as a result of changes to blood vessels and blood supply. Every person with diabetes, which is approximately 1.2 million Australians, is at risk of a diabetic eye disease, and approximately 1/3 of this demographic show signs of diabetic retinopathy. A scary statistic considering 1/3 of Aussies with diabetes have never been for an eye test, and only 1/2 of people with diabetes have regular eye exams.
There are two different kinds of Diabetic Retinopathy, Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR) and Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR), the former may progress to the latter. It’s important to note that there are no early-stage symptoms and vision loss may not occur until the disease is advanced. NPDR occurs gradually when increased blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. PDR occurs when decreased oxygen supply to the retina triggers the release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which stimulates the growth of new blood vessels, a process known as neovascularisation. These new fragile blood vessels often leak and bleed which significantly affects vision. Because of this, scarring can occur which also alters vision, and as the scar tissue contracts the retina may detach leading to permanent blindness.
Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy
- Balance issues
- Blurred or distorted vision
- Dim or patchy vision
- Frequent prescription changes
- Flashes of light in periphery
- Glare sensitivity
- Poor night-time vision
- Sudden onset of haze, shadows, or floaters in vision
Signs of Diabetic Retinopathy (detectable by your optometrist)
- Cotton wool spots (swollen areas of nerve fibre)
- Exudates (protein or lipid deposits)
- Microaneurysms or haemorrhage (small spots on blood)
- Neovascularisation (growth of new blood vessels on the retina)
- Oedema (retinal swelling)
Managing Risk Factors
It’s a good idea to take note of risk factors, because correct management can help to slow, stop, or sometimes reverse the progression of DR. Along with managing risk factors, and controlling your diabetes, regular eye exams are pertinent to eye health and reducing your risk of vision loss. Once diagnosed with DR, patients should have regular annual check-ups!
Treatment for Diabetic Retinopathy
The good news is diabetes management, early diagnosis and treatment of DR dramatically increase the likelihood of saving sight. So what are the treatment options?
If you notice any new or worrying symptoms, or if you haven’t had an eye test for more than two years, visit us at Beckenham Optometrist as soon as possible. Early treatment saves sight!