If you have diabetes you are at risk of vision loss from Diabetes Retinopathy (damage to the very small blood vessels on the back of the eye). However, good blood glucose levels and blood pressure and regular screening can greatly reduce the risk of complications.

Diabetes Retinopathy can occur regardless of the type of diabetes you have, your age, or even the control you have over your blood-glucose levels. For this reason, everyone who has diabetes should have their eyes checked regularly. Begin when diabetes is first diagnosed, and then at least every two years after that.

If the damage is detected before it has affected your sight, treatment can prevent vision loss. Where vision loss has already occurred, treatment can only stop it from getting worse.

Symptoms Diabetic Retinopathy

Some examples of symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy include:

  • Blurred, distorted or patchy vision that can’t be corrected with prescription glasses
  • Problems with balance, reading, watching television and recognising people
  • Being overly sensitive to glare
  • Difficulty seeing at night.

In the early stages of Diabetic Retinopathy there may be no symptoms and the disease may not be diagnosed until it is advanced.

Can Diabetic Retinopathy be treated?

Treatment of diabetic retinopathy should begin as soon as possible, before significant symptoms are evident.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment is usually applied through a special contact lens in an outpatient setting and the patient can go home after having it. The treatment is not usually painful. Areas of the retina are treated with tiny laser burns if there is significant leakage of fluid, especially at or near the macula, or if there are areas where the retina is affected severely by poor circulation causing ischaemia (lack of adequate oxygen supply).

The aim of treatment is to help prevent further leakage, to promote reabsorption of fluid from the retina and reduce the stimulus to new vessel growth. In cases of severe ischaemia or when new blood vessels are already present, the aim is to apply a sufficient number of retinal laser burns, often thousands, to cause the new vessels to regress and prevent any further vessels from developing.

Repeated treatments are usually needed. If diabetic retinopathy is too advanced before laser treatment is undertaken, it may fail to improve sight significantly and may continue to progress, even to the point of blindness in both eyes.

This fact underlines the importance of regular screening to detect diabetic retinopathy early. For most countries where The Foundation works eye examinations are recommended on an annual basis.

Surgical treatment

Surgical treatment may be possible for very advanced cases of the condition where there has been severe bleeding in the eye, scar formation or retinal detachment. Surgery however is normally reserved as an attempt to rescue desperate cases of advanced diabetic retinopathy from blindness.

Other treatment

New forms of treatment include injecting drugs into the eye to reduce swelling in the retina and suppress new vessel growth.

For more information visit Diabetes Australia.

The RANZCO have an online information sheet available on Diabetic Retinopathy and Surgical Treatment to Preserve Vision, click here.