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Diabetic retinopathy is the name given to the complications that arise within the eye due to diabetes. Our resident optometrist Shon Prasad tells us what to look for and how it can be prevented and treated.

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 but to keep things simple I’ve broken them down into three simple 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. Commonly bleeds and fluid leakages 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


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, if required, if you’re a diabetic. 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 afterwards and wearing sunglasses afterwards is highly recommended. However, with newer technology, we are able to take images of the retina and have as much view without the hassle of dilating your eyes. It is much quicker and allows us to keep records for future reference.

In the event you have diabetic retinopathy, the optometrist will make a call depending on the severity whether we need to keep a closer watch on things with, for example, a review in three months. Typically, we stay in touch with your general practitioner to advise them of what we have found. In cases where treatment is required then you will be referred to an Ophthalmologist for further treatment which 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.