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A man has an eye test to check for diabetic retinopathy

A man has an eye test to check for diabetic retinopathy
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Diabetic retinopathy

3-minute read

What is diabetic retinopathy?

The retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue on the inside back of the eye. In people with diabetes, the retina can slowly become damaged and cause vision problems. This condition is called diabetic retinopathy.

If you have diabetes, you can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by managing your diabetes and having regular eye checks.

What causes diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes. Diabetes can cause the tiny blood vessels in the retina to swell and then bleed or leak fluid. This happens in many parts of the body, and can cause problems like kidney disease and poor circulation to the legs.

In the eyes, this process can slowly damage the retina. Both eyes are usually affected.

The longer you have diabetes, the more likely it is that you’ll get diabetic retinopathy. Your risk also increases if your diabetes is not well controlled or if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

If you have diabetic retinopathy, you might:

  • have blurred, distorted or patchy vision that can’t be corrected with prescription glasses
  • have eye floaters (moving specks) in your vision
  • find it more difficult to read or watch television
  • have pain in one or both eyes
  • have trouble seeing straight lines
  • become sensitive to glare
  • have trouble seeing at night
  • have problems with your balance

You might not notice any symptoms in the early stages. So, if you have diabetes, it is important to get your eyes checked regularly.

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed by an eye exam, and, if necessary, your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).

Diabetes Australia recommends that if you have diabetes, you should have your eyes checked when your diabetes is first diagnosed and then at least once every 2 years. See your doctor or organise an eye test with an optometrist if you notice any changes in your vision.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy can slow or prevent vision loss. Keeping your blood sugar and blood pressure under control can treat diabetic retinopathy. There are medications that can reduce swelling in the retina.

Laser treatment can be used to seal leaking blood vessels and stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Surgery may be needed in people with more advanced diabetic retinopathy.

Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?

You can reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy or further vision loss by:

  • keeping your diabetes well controlled
  • having regular eye checks
  • maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • registering for eye check reminders at KeepSight Australia

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020

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