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More than one million Australians have diabetes.  Of these more than 70% will develop some changes in their eyes within 15 years of diagnosis. 

Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of vision loss in people 20 to 65 and the most common cause of preventable blindness.

Eye changes in diabetic people:

Diabetes can cause the focusing ability of the eye to weaken or to fluctuate from day to day.  This problem may be eased when the sugar levels are control by their doctor.

Diabetic Retinopathy:

In a diabetic people changes may occur at the back of the eye in the retina.  Your optometrist may use various instruments to check for these changes.  The risk of developing retinopathy increases with the length of time you have had diabetes.  This risk is also increased by poor control of blood sugar levels.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs as a result of damage to the tiny blood vessels at the back of the retina.

  •  Background retinopathy

Rarely causes any loss of vision and doesn't require treatment.  On occasion a swelling of the retina may cause hazy vision or straight lines to appear bent.


  • Proliferative retinopathy

This condition is more serious and requires early treatment to prevent serious vision loss.  An Optometrist can recognise signs that this condition might develop or detect the early stages.  Once proliferative retinopathy has been diagnosed your Optometrist will refer you to an Ophthalmologist for management.

Managing Diabetic retinopathy

Little is known about prevention of these complications, so the best management is to have regular eye examinations with your Optometrist so that the changes can be detected and treated early.

It is advisably for all people diagnosed with Diabetes to have yearly checks.  People that have been diagnosed with retinopathy have more frequent examinations.

  • Double Vision

Is a rare complication of diabetes.  This condition is usually temporary but may last for a few months. Diabetes is not the only cause of double vision.

  • Cataract

Cataracts are more likely to occur in diabetic people at an earlier age than in non-diabetic people.  A cataract is a cloudiness that can form in the lens inside the eye.  Your Optometrist can detect the cataract if present and will advise on the best management strategy.

Adapted from Optometry Association Australia Boucher and Mivision Magazine article

This article was published on Saturday 10 January, 2009.