Diabetic retinopathy: how early detection can save your sight

With more than 250,000 Kiwis living with the disease today, diabetes is a growing health concern in New Zealand.

What many Kiwis may not know is that one of the most common complications associated with diabetes is also the leading cause of preventable blindness in adults.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes, caused by blockage or damage to the retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye and depriving the eye’s blood supply. In response, new blood vessels will grow, which can be fragile, leaking blood from the center of the eye, causing blurred vision and blindness.

Up to one in three Kiwis with diabetes show signs of diabetic retinopathy, with New Zealand’s largest eye care provider Specsavers saying it treats more than 700 patients each week.

If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to irreversible blindness. However, with early detection and treatment, we may be able to help create a different future for the eye health of many Kiwis.

One of the most common complications associated with diabetes is also the leading cause of preventable blindness in adults

PROVIDED

One of the most common complications associated with diabetes is also the leading cause of preventable blindness in adults

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms and some patients may not recognize they have an eye problem until it progresses to an advanced stage.

“You might not even know you have it,” says Specsavers Optometrist Niall McCormack. “Some patients with diabetic retinopathy may have no symptoms. Others may experience deterioration of vision, sudden vision loss, floaters, blurring, dark areas of vision, or difficulty recognizing colors. ” explains Niall.

Niall says early detection is key to managing diabetic retinopathy, and the earlier it can be detected, the easier it can be to manage.

“If diabetic retinopathy is detected early enough, it can normally be treated with careful diabetes management. Advanced cases may require laser treatment, eye injections or surgery by an ophthalmologist.”

“Unfortunately, even people with well-controlled diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy, so regular screenings are critically important, regardless of symptoms.”

Many people with diabetes may not know they need to have their eyes checked.

UNSPLASH

Many people with diabetes may not know they need to have their eyes checked.

An alarming prediction from Diabetes New Zealand points to an expected 90% increase over the next 20 years, with around one in four New Zealanders already living with undiagnosed pre-diabetic symptoms.

“If you are living with diabetes, your eyes are at risk of damage from diabetic retinopathy. Many people with diabetes may not be aware that they need to have their eyes checked. I recommend to all diabetes patients or having a family history of diabetes to keep their eye checks in mind Niall explains.

“For someone with diabetes, it’s important to manage their blood sugar levels, lead a healthy lifestyle, and get their eyes tested at least every two years.”

“Diabetes can be detected with an eye test, so this simple test can really help save a person’s vision or even their life.”

“Diabetic retinopathy can progress without much fanfare, it is increasingly critical that it is detected as early as possible. If we catch problems early, patients can get treatment early, damage can be prevented, and they can keep sight.”

All Specsavers stores have hospital-grade technology to help their optometrists detect diabetic retinopathy and other sight-threatening eye conditions early with advanced 3D scanning of the back of the eye.

Each Specsavers eye test includes a 3D scan of the inside of the eye.

PROVIDED

Each Specsavers eye test includes a 3D scan of the inside of the eye.

Top tips for managing diabetes and keeping your eyes healthy:

– Manage blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol

– Have a healthy diet

– Maintain an active lifestyle

– If you are a smoker, discuss quitting with your GP

– Have your eyes tested regularly

To visit specsavers.co.nz to learn more about early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy or to book an eye exam.

Julio V. Miller