Diabetic Eye Disease - Hidden in Plain Sight

It starts with a blurring in one or both eyes and can lead to vision loss and blindness.  Diabetic Eye Disease is a major cause of vision loss and blindness in Australia yet it is both preventable and, if diagnosed early, treatable.

It’s known as a hidden disease and it effects almost half of the estimated 30,000 people with diabetes on the Gold Coast. Many people don’t know they are in danger because they either don’t know they have diabetes, or if they do know they have diabetes, don't have regular eye checks ups.

Gold Coast Ophthalmologist Dr. Frances Kearney said Diabetic Eye Disease affecting the macula was caused by blood vessels leaking fluid.

“People with diabetes are at risk of vision loss but there are often no warning signs or symptoms in the early stages so regular eye checks are vital,” said Dr Kearney

Dr Kearney said the important thing to remember was that blurred vision due to Diabetic Eye Disease was often preventable and repairable with proper and vigilant monitoring and treatment.

“We estimate up to 90% of cases of vision loss or blindness from Diabetic Eye Disease could be prevented or treated with careful monitoring and treatment. 

“The worry is that half of those at risk don’t access regular eye checks according to national guidelines.

“If we see disease at an early stage we have a much better chance of saving vision,” said Dr. Kearney.

According to Dr. Kearney the worst case scenario is total blindness in both eyes which is still occurring on the Gold Coast despite new treatments which mean the condition can be treated or prevented much better than ever before.

“The rate of diabetes is increasing and that means if nothing changes we can expect the number of people with Diabetic Eye Disease affecting the macula to rise by 42 percent over the next 15 years.”

A Deloitte Access Economics report published in April said Diabetic Eye Disease would cost Australians more than 2 billion dollars in lost productivity this year alone.

While Diabetic Eye Disease has economic consequences for the Gold Coast, there are also huge social and emotional consequences as vision loss and blindness increase.

Florence Meiers was “highly surprised and stunned” when her optometrist diagnosed Diabetic Eye Disease at her regular check up.

Florence had type 2 diabetes and no symptoms of eye problems. She began regular eye checks on advice from her General Practitioner.

“The Optometrist knew what he was looking for so when he saw it he became quite serious and he said, ‘Florence, you must go and see an Ophthalmologist straight away.’”

Now on treatment Florence is happy she has no vision loss after what she feels was a close call.

“Yearly eye checks only cost half an hour of your time, but if something happens you know about it.  I am so fortunate not to have lost any vision, but I am still shocked at how quickly that can change.

“I also feel lucky that the new treatments recently available offer me the hope of good vision for the years ahead,” said Florence.

National Diabetes Awareness Week – Sunday 12 July – Saturday 18 July 2015

Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease can include blurred vision with difficulty reading, seeing faces and driving. If Diabetic Eye Disease is left untreated it can lead to severe vision loss and blindness.