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Diabetic retinopathy is the name given to the complications that arise within the eye due to diabetes.

Anyone who is a diabetic is at risk of diabetic retinopathy which can potentially cause irreversible damage, loss of vision or blindness without early detection and treatment.

Causes of diabetic retinopathy

There are different stages of diabetic retinopathy, with ultimately three different types:

  • Macular oedema – where there is swelling at the macular due to a leakage of fluid which affects your central vision.
  • Non-proliferative retinopathy – This is the early stage of the disease where normal retinal blood vessels leak fluid or bleed which can range in severity. As the severity increases, there is more chance of progression to proliferative retinopathy.
  • Proliferative retinopathy – This is where newly created blood vessels start to grow at the retina. Being newly formed and fragile they are prone to leaking, bleeding and even scarring which can contract to cause retinal detachment.

Signs and symptoms

Unfortunately, there are no signs or symptoms that you’ll experience in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. It is common for bleeds and fluid leakages to occur in the peripheral retina. However in the late-stages you may find yourself with blurred vision when the macular or surrounds are affected.

Without signs and symptoms, you could have diabetic retinopathy occurring without even knowing!

Diabetic Retinopathy

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Prevention and treatment

Prevention is the best treatment, largely with good control of blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. This will ensure you are at a much lower risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Secondly, routine yearly ocular examinations for diabetic retinopathy is essential for early diagnosis and treatment. It is important for those who know they are a diabetic to have this test. The risk of eye disease also increases with the duration you’ve been a diabetic, so it’s even more important the older you get.

Diabetic examinations are typically done by dilating the pupil to basically ‘open the window’ to your eye and it gives the optometrist the widest view of the retina. It does mean you cannot drive for a few hours and wearing sunglasses afterwards is highly recommended.

In the event you have diabetic retinopathy, the optometrist will make a call depending on the severity as to when your next review will need to be.  In cases where treatment is required then you will be referred to an Ophthalmologist for further treatment. This can include laser treatment, ocular injections or surgery.

Shon Prasad
Shon Prasad is an Optometrist who graduated from Queensland University of Technology in 2016 with a Bachelor of Vision Science and Master of Optometry. He also has a Graduate Certificate of Ocular Therapeutics enabling him to prescribe ocular medications. Shon works primarily at OPSM Kawana Waters and OPSM Stafford and has a passion for sharing knowledge and teaching people. He volunteers his spare time being a member of Rotaract Club of Brisbane International and a Justice of the Peace.
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