Every day, about eight Australians lose their sight as a result of diabetes-related eye disease. Most of this vision loss can be prevented if eye disease is detected early.

The most common of these is diabetic retinopathy. Around 50–60 per cent of people with diabetes develop diabetic retinopathy within 15 years. It is the leading cause of blindness in people aged 20–74 years.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood glucose levels damage the fine blood vessels of the retina. The blood vessels become weaker and more easily blocked, which causes small patches of internal bleeding, swelling and inflammation in the retina.

What are the symptoms?

In the early stages, there are often no obvious signs or symptoms of retinopathy but some people may notice: blurred vision, floaters and spots, blank or missing areas in their vision. The onset of retinopathy is often subtle. You might not be aware of any problem with your vision until you have sudden and permanent vision loss. This is why it is important to have your eyes checked regularly.

How can I get tested for it?

Eye tests can be arranged through a general practitioner, optometrist or by referral to an ophthalmologist.

Find an optometrist in your area.

Early detection and treatment can prevent up to 98 per cent of severe vision loss. The aim of regular eye checks is to detect small changes in the eyes as early as possible to enable early treatment. An optometrist or ophthalmologist can check the parts of the eye that can be affected by diabetes.

They will not only check your vision but also look for cataracts, check the pressure in your eyes to detect glaucoma, as well as check the retina for signs of retinopathy. These checks take less than 10 minutes and are painfree. If you have diabetes (type 1 or type 2), comprehensive eye examinations are recommended at least every two years or as directed by your doctor.