Diabetic Eye Disease


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What is diabetic eye disease?

Serious eye problems are one of the side-effects of diabetes, a condition that affects more than 1 in 25 Australians. The main conditions grouped under the term diabetic eye disease are:

  1. Diabetic macular edema – blood vessel leakage affecting the macula (the leading cause of diabetes-related vision loss)
  2. Diabetic retinopathy – damage to blood vessels in the back of the eye (usually less severe but more common)
  3. Cataracts – an increasing clouding of the eye lens
  4. Glaucoma – increased pressure within the eyeball.

If untreated, any of these conditions can be very serious. Overall, diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of preventable severe vision loss and blindness in Australians under 50.

The underlying reason why diabetes is so hazardous to vision is that it hinders or prevents your body from controlling blood sugar levels. When blood sugar is too high for too long, the tiny blood vessels within the eyeball sustain various kinds of damage.

diabetic eye disease diagram

How common is diabetic eye disease?

Nearly 100 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes and more than 60 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic eye disease within two decades of diagnosis.

Diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema have a well-known relationship with diabetes. For cataracts and glaucoma, the link between diabetes and their prevalence is known, but the strength of these relationships is still being researched.

What are the symptoms of diabetic eye disease?

Concerningly, diabetic eye disease does not present clear early symptoms, especially diabetic retinopathy. Symptoms are usually noticeable once the condition has made some progression. This means regular expert eye examinations are crucial for catching the disease as early as possible. If you have diabetes, be very aware of:

  • pain within the eye
  • vision quality that varies day to day
  • blurry or distorted vision
  • difficulty perceiving colour
  • flashes or spots of light or dark that appear by themselves.
diabetic eye disease symptoms

Treatment options for diabetic eye disease

Diabetic eye disease responds well to treatments used for conditions that, while similar, are not caused by diabetes. Further, techniques that inject medication directly into the back of the eyeball at the source of the damage are showing great promise.