Eye health changes are common complications of diabetes. These changes can include cataracts and bleeding in the back of the eye, diabetic retinopathy, as well as secondary glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy is a series of changes in the blood vessels of the retina at the back of the eye that can cause bleeding and fluid leakage/swelling. This can cause sight threatening complications. Both Type 1 and 2 diabetics are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. About 700,000 Australians have diabetes. Between 40-45% of all diagnosed diabetics have some degree of diabetic retinopathy.
What Causes It?
Diabetic retinopathy occurs due to the damaging effects of diabetes on the integrity of the sealed walls of the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. Vision loss results in two ways:
- Fragile, abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the central vision area, the macula. This is proliferative retinopathy and is the fourth and most advanced stage of the disease.
- Fluid can leak into the centre of the macula, making the macula swell and causing blurred vision. This is called macular oedema. Its likelihood increases with more advanced disease.
Most people with diabetes have background retinopathy. They are only minor changes that act as warning signs that diabetic control is inadequate and more serious complications are being risked if control does not improve. Usually, you will not notice any vision changes other than perhaps blurred areas in your vision with fine detail tasks if diabetic retinopathy is developing. Significant vision disturbance will usually indicate quite advanced disease.