What is Diabetic Eye Disease and Why is it a Major Eye Problem in Australia

August 6, 2017


Diabetes is a complex and a progressive disease that causes a person’s glucose (sugar) level to become too high in the blood. When you have diabetes, either your body produces little or no insulin (Type 1 Diabetes) or becomes resistant to insulin (Type 2 Diabetes). Without insulin, glucose stays in your blood and over time, this can cause a host of complications including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, Alzheimer’s disease, hearing impairment, skin conditions, and the most common, diabetic eye disease.


There are about 1.25 million Australians who have diabetes, with an additional 108,000 patients recently diagnosed in the past 12 months. It is highly possible that these people will develop some form of diabetic eye disease within 20 years after diagnosis.  This report is very alarming as this means that Australia could be facing a major eye health concern in the next 20 years.


What is Diabetic Eye Disease?


Diabetic Eye Disease actually consists of a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes. It includes the following:


  • Diabetic Retinopathy

High blood sugar levels can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels on our retina, the part of our eyes that sends light signals to brain in order for us to see.  Various changes can occur from swelling and leaking of the blood vessels to closing up and blocking blood from circulating the eye normally. The later stage of diabetic retinopathy is when abnormal vessels suddenly grow around the area. Some of the most obvious symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are blurred and double vision, dark or floating spots, difficulty seeing at night, being overly sensitive to glare, and problems with balance and other activities that involve visual recognition.


  • Diabetic Macular Oedema (DME).

The area of the retina responsible for our central vision called the macula. One complication of diabetes is fluid accumulation at the macula from leaky blood vessels. This results in significantly blurred vision, floaters or double vision. Macular Oedema is a typical consequence of Diabetic Retinopathy.


  • Cataract

Cataract is an natural, age-related eye condition amongst people who are 60 years old and above, but for people with diabetes it develops and progresses at a much faster rate. Cataract is the clouding of the lens inside the eyes which reduces the light that is received by the retina and also reduces the sharpness of our vision. 


  • Glaucoma

Glaucoma occurs when there is damage to the optic nerve that connects our eyes to our brain. Generally, it can be considered to be either be slowly progressive (open angle glaucoma) or cause permanent damage very rapidly (closed angle glaucoma). Both eventually result in a irreversible loss of peripheral vision. In diabetics, the risk of developing glaucoma is twice as high.



How Common Are These Complications Here in Australia?


Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing these eye complications, and if poorly managed, these conditions will most likely lead to permanent blindness. Diabetic eye disease is so common amongst Australians that three separate studies have all unanimously placed the average number at one diabetic eye disease patient for every three diabetics.


The studies were made by The Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab), The Melbourne Vision Impairment Project, and The Blue Mountains Eye Study from NSW. Here are the numbers:



Source: Out of Sight Report by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and The Centre for Eye Research Australia


Diabetes is considered a national epidemic as 280 more Australians develop it every day. Basing it on the percentage derived by industry leaders, the number of people suffering from retinopathy and macular oedema will most likely double. Hence, the number of people who are at risk of going blind will increase as well.



What are the Causes of the Prevalence of Diabetic Eye Disease in Australia?


  • Most patients are unaware that they have diabetic eye disease because they were unable to report its early signs. Remember to go and see your optometrist as soon as you start experiencing any changes in your vision.  This is especially important if you are already a diabetic or suspect that you may have developed it already. Early detection is always best.


  • An unhealthy lifestyle, poor physical activity, smoking, and an unhealthy diet are just some of the causes of diabetes that result in a myriad of complications including those in vision. An easy way to prevent yourself from developing diabetes is making a conscious turn towards living a healthier life. Maintain your blood pressure to the prescribed level and then monitor your glucose and cholesterol levels too.


  • Many people disregard the importance of proper consultation with an experienced optometrist and don't have regular eye exams. Don't hesitate to have your eye checked should you be experiencing any of the symptoms described above. Book an eye test now before it’s too late.


In general, Diabetic Eye Disease is a serious condition that one should be aware of, whether you are diabetic or not. Also, people should be careful of the many causes of diabetes as developing it could easily take you from one condition to another including retinopathy, DME, and possibly cataract and glaucoma. It is a challenge for Australians now to lead a healthier lifestyle and observe preventive measures. If you have diabetes already, please ensure you follow the recommended steps on managing your condition.  For more information book an eye test today.


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