Diabetic Retinopathy: how early detection can save your sight


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Those who have, or who are at risk of having diabetes, are also at risk of diabetic retinopathy. However, having regular check ups can prevent up to 98 per cent of severe vision loss.

With more than 250,000 Kiwis living with the condition today, diabetes is an increasingly concerning health problem in New Zealand.

What many of us might not know, however, 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 a blockage or damage to the blood vessels in the retina 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 into the centre of the eye – causing blurred vision and blindness. 

As many as one in three Kiwis with diabetes have some sign of diabetic retinopathy, with New Zealand’s largest eye health provider, Specsavers, saying they treat more than 700 patients for the condition 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.

 In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy often has no symptoms and some patients may not recognise they have a problem with their eyes until it progresses to an advanced stage. “You may not even know you have it,” Specsavers optometrist Niall McCormack says. “Some patients with diabetic retinopathy might not experience any symptoms. Others might experience worsening vision, sudden vision loss, floaters, blurriness, dark areas of vision or difficulty recognising colours.”

 McCormack asserts that early detection is key to managing diabetic retinopathy, and the earlier it can be detected, the easier it may be to manage it.

 “If diabetic retinopathy is picked up 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 individuals with well- controlled diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy, so regular screenings are critically important, regardless of any symptoms.” 

An alarming prediction from Diabetes New Zealand states an expected increase by as much as 90 per cent over the next 20 years, with an estimated 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 might not know they need to have their eyes checked. I recommend all patients with diabetes or with a family history of diabetes keep their eye checks front of mind,” McCormack says. “For a person living with diabetes, it’s important to manage blood sugar levels, lead a healthy lifestyle, and get your eyes tested every two years. 

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

“As diabetic retinopathy can progress without much fanfare, it’s increasingly critical that it is detected as early as possible. If we detect problems early, then patients can get early treatment, damage can be prevented and they can keep their sight.” 

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

Top Tips To Manage Diabetes And Keep Eyes Healthy

  • Manage blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol
  • Have a healthy diet
  • Maintain an active lifestyle
  • If you’re a smoker, discuss quitting with your GP
  • Have eyes tested regularly


For more information, or to find your closest Specsavers store, visit specsavers.co.nz


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