Diabetes and Your Eyes

Did you know that each and every day 60 Queenslanders are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? And that approximately 7% of Australians over 25 and 24% over 75 have diabetes? Aside the from the myriad health complications related to diabetes, such as kidney failure, heart disease and stroke, over 70% of diabetics will develop changes in their eyes within 15 years of diagnosis, which if undetected can lead to vision loss and blindness.

All eyes on diabetes awareness

As there is no cure for type 2 diabtes, prevention is the message being spread during National Diabetes Week, running from 8 to 14 July this year. “As always, by arming yourself with knowledge and taking quick action you have the power to prevent or minimise irreprable damage to your body and your eyes,” says Dr Jan Coetzee of Insight Optometrists in Indooroopilly. “Diabetes causes blood glucose levels, which are normally regulated by insulin and burned up as energy, to see-saw and skyrocket. This affects the blood vessels in the eye. The most common eye disorders associated with diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinothapy and sometimes you may not even know you have diabetes until diagnosed with one of these eye conditions – at which point the damage to your eyes could be extensive.”

Common diabetes related eye disorders

Diabetic retinothapy

Retinopathy“Blood vessels in the retina are damaged and may eventually leak fluid, which can seroiusly affect your vision,” explains Dr Coetzee. “There are different types of diabetic retinothapy – background retinothapy, where although there is some damage to blood vessels, your vision is still unaffected. It is important to manage diabetes proeprly at this stage to prevent further damage to your eyes. Then there is maculopathy, when the macula is damaged, usually badly affecting vision and there is proliferative retinothapy, where new blood vessels start to grow in the back of your eye as a result of damage to your existing blood vessels due to a lack of oxygen – again at great cost to your vision.”


Cataract“This is when the lens of your eye becomes fogged over and cloudy so you are not able to focus properly on light,” explains Dr Coetzee. “Those with diabetes are a higher risk for cataracts and they tend to affect both eyes, often developing at different rates. If left untreated, eventually your vision will completely cloud over. Long term exposure to damaging UV rays can cause or worsen cataracts, so ensure you wear proper protective sunglasses and other sun-safe measures when outdoors.” Cataracts can be removed with surgery and most patients are fitted with an intraocular (plastic) lens and may need to wear spectacles or contact lenses after surgery.


GlaucomaGlaucoma is the name for certain eye diseases usually related to increased pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure). This pressure build-up causes fluid to collect, whereas normally it would be drained away with the eyes’ own drainage system. This causes damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the eye, leading to vision problems. “The two main types of glaucoma are angle-closure and open-angle glaucoma,” advises Dr Coetzee. “In angle-closure glaucoma, the drainage canals are actually physically blocked and once detected quick action must be taken to prevent severe optic damage and vision loss. The most common form is open-angle glaucoma, in which the eye drainage system remains open and unblocked. This means there are often no symptoms until it is quite advanced and it can cause extensive vision damage if not detected early and treated.”

High alert eye symptoms

  • Blurred, distored or double vision
  • Hazy or dimming vision
  • Glare sensitivity
  • Coloured ‘halos’ around lights
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Floating spots, flashes of light
  • ‘Holes’ or black spots in vision
  • Decreased side or frontal vision
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye aches, pains and redness
  • Unexplained headaches

Take action against diabetes and eye damage

  • Visit your optometrist immediately if you have any of the above symptoms.
  • Go for annual eye exam and eye disease assessments, including glaucoma screening.
  • If you have diabetes and later fall pregnant, go for a full eye exam in the first trimester and follow-up checks throughout your pregnancy.
  • Control your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Follow a balanced, healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables and reduced fat and sugar.
  • Exercise regularly for at least 30-minutes per day.
  • Visit a dietician for a weight-loss plan if you are overweight (especially if your waist measurement exceeds 94cm (men) or 80cm (women).
  • Reduce your alcohol intake and stop smoking – focus on healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Remember you are at greater risk if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or developed diabetes during pregnancy.

Early detection with optical technology

“Nowadays there is a host of high tech equipment there to assist you when it comes to the quick and early detection of any kind of eye problem,” says Dr Coetzee. “Eye imaging technology like digital retinal imaging and optical coherence tomography (OCT) allow us the most up-close, detailed and comprehensive views of the inner eye than ever before – right down to real-time, 3D cross-section images of the eye. This equipment helps us immeasurably in quickly picking up the warning signs of glaucoma, cataracts or diabetic retinothapy, so that action can be taken to prevent permanent damage to your eyes and vision.”

Further resources:

Diabetes Australia – http://www.diabetesqld.org.au/
Australian Diabetes Council – http://www.australiandiabetescouncil.com
Optometrists Association Australia – http://www.optometrists.asn.au/

Information provided by Dr Jan Coetzee of Insight Optometrists, Indooroopilly (Brisbane, Queensland). Dr Coetzee holds a doctorate in optometry and is dedicated to raising awareness of eye health issues and providing high quality, protective eyewear. Insight Optometrists is also an accredited member of the Eyecare Plus group, a select collective of clinically-driven optometry practices across Australia. More info: www.insightoptom.com.au.