This National Diabetes Week (11-17 July), Optometry Australia is raising awareness of one of the most common conditions affecting everyday Australians. Diabetes has in the past affected an estimated 1.2 million Australians, with one in three diabetics developing some form of eye disease.
To lower this number and promote good vision for life, we’ve taken a closer look at the link between eye health and diabetes.
But first, how does diabetes affect eye health?
Of those living with diabetes, almost everyone with Type 1 diabetes, and more than 60 per cent of those with Type 2 diabetes will develop some form of diabetic eye disease within 20 years of their diagnosis.
For the majority, this will be diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can occur when high sugar content, resulting from low insulin levels, builds up in the blood causing damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina ruptures, bleeds and swells, resulting in blurred or distorted vision that can lead to blindness. In fact, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working age Australians.
High blood sugar levels in people living with diabetes can also cause other diabetes-related eye diseases. People with diabetes are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts, and often at a young age, whilst having diabetes doubles the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma.
So, how does someone maintain good vision for life if they’re living with diabetes?
It’s not all doom and gloom for people living with diabetes. There are a number of ways to maintain eye health, and with early detection, 98 per cent of vision loss from diabetes is preventable.
As a first port of call, focus on your diet
With diabetes stemming from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin to break down sugars into glucose, people living with diabetes are advised to manage their blood glucose levels with a balanced diet.
According to Optometry Australia’s 2020 Vision Index, 70 per cent of Australians agree that a balanced diet can support eye health, and they’re right! Studies have indicated that consuming a healthy diet reduces the risk of overall health related diseases and prevents eye diseases.
Making healthy lifestyle choices is also important
In the interest of managing the condition, individuals living with diabetes can make conscious lifestyle choices, for instance maintaining weight control, regularly exercising and quitting smoking. Behaviour changes such as these can help control the risk factors associated with diabetes.
Be aware of the signs of poor eye health
Unfortunately, conditions such as diabetic retinopathy have no early-stage symptoms, and often go unnoticed. That being said, there are some signs to be aware of and keep an eye out for, which include:
- Blurred vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Floaters, or dots and dark strings in your field of vision
- Impaired colour vision
- Partial or total vision loss
And of course, visit your optometrist regularly
If you are diabetic, it’s important you have ongoing eye examinations and work closely with your optometrist to manage your eye health. Optometry Australia recommends people living with diabetes visit their optometrist at least once a year for a comprehensive eye examination. Contact your local optometrist immediately if you are experiencing sudden vision loss or difficulty seeing.