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Managing patients' risk of damage

All people with diabetes are at risk of damage to the retina (diabetic retinopathy), but also cataracts and retinal detachment.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy affects about one in four people who have diabetes, and is a leading cause of preventable blindness.

Diabetes can affect the eyes in different ways. Early signs are not necessarily sight threatening but require regular monitoring.

Diabetes causes changes to the delicate layer of blood vessels and cells of the retina (the tissue at the back of the eye required for vision). The walls of the blood vessels weaken and can balloon (microaneurysms), or become leaky (haemorrhages) or blocked.

Sometimes fluid or fats leak into the central retina (the macula which is the area of the retina that sees detail), causing swelling and blurred vision. In advanced cases, a severe bleed within the eye or a retinal detachment can result in vision loss.

What can be done to prevent diabetic eye disease?

Early signs of diabetic retinopathy are often non-sight threatening but require regular monitoring. The best way to prevent diabetes-related eye disease is:

  • Careful control of blood glucose.
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Not smoking.
  • Managing diet and exercise.
  • Regular checks with your healthcare team and optometrist.
  • Being alert to any vision problems.

Newly diagnosed people with type 2 diabetes should be referred for screening at the time of diagnosis as eye damage can already be present. It is important to monitor closely if you have had diabetes for many years, if you have poorly controlled diabetes or if you are pregnant and have diabetes.

If progressing retinopathy is detected, you may need to be referred to an ophthalmologist and treatment may be required. Because there are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, damage can occur a long time before you notice any vision changes. It is vital to detect eye disease early so that treatment can be done at the optimum time to prevent further damage.

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