Diabetic retinopathy is a vision-threatening complication of diabetes

We aim to slow and stop the progression of this condition with medications, laser treatment and surgery

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Useful information about diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially vision-threatening complication of diabetes. It occurs when high sugar levels from diabetes damages the fine blood vessels within the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Early diabetic retinopathy may not cause any noticeable symptoms, however as the disease progresses the blood vessels in the retina can become more affected and there is a risk of developing new abnormal blood vessels which leak blood (haemorrhage) into the eye. Initially this causes specks or spots of blood to “float” in the vision but more serious bleeding can cause significant vision loss.

Diabetic macular oedema (DME) is another complication of diabetes that can affect vision. In this condition, blood and fluid leaks into the macula, the small central area located at the back of the eye responsible for providing detailed, “straight-ahead” vision. As a result, central vision can gradually become distorted and blurred.

Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease is critical for recovering and maintaining a good level of vision.

The risk of diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema (DME) increases with the duration of time that the diabetes has been present. Blood sugar control can also influence the risk significantly. Pregnant women with underlying or gestational diabetes can also be at increased risk of developing diabetic eye disease.

Because diabetic retinopathy does not always present with symptoms it is important for all diabetic patients to have regular eye examinations. Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease is often associated with a better outlook for vision over the long-term. Testing and screening for diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema may include

  • Vision testing
  • Examination of your retina using a special microscope. Often, dilating drops that blur your vision for 2-3 hours are used and it is usually recommended that you do not drive during this time period
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) provides cross-sectional imaging of the macula and can be used to detect diabetic macular oedema (DME)
  • Retinal photography
  • Fluorescein angiography is sometimes required. This is where fluorescein dye is used to identify abnormal blood vessels in the retina

The risk of developing vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy increases with longer duration of diabetes and poor glucose control. The frequency of eye examinations therefore varies from person to person.

Early or mild diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema may not necessarily require treatment. Ensuring that the blood sugar levels are well-controlled can lower the risk of progression to more severe diabetic eye disease. Our doctors will communicate and work with your general practitioner and/or endocrinologist to try and optimise control of your diabetes as well as other aspects of your general health.

Development of proliferative diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular oedema often requires treatment to prevent significant vision loss. Treatment options include laser, medication injected into the eye and surgery. Laser is a non-invasive and painless outpatient treatment that is performed in the clinic. Sometimes, several sessions of laser are required to complete treatment.1Uofmhealth.org. 2021. Laser Photocoagulation for Diabetic Retinopathy | Michigan Medicine. [online] Available at: <https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tf4075> [Accessed 24 June 2021].

Eye injections are performed with copious anaesthetic eye drops and are a painless procedure that can be performed in the clinic or in a Day Surgery.2American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2021. Do Injections Into the Eye Hurt?. [online] Available at: <https://www.aao.org/eye-health/ask-ophthalmologist-q/do-eye-injections-hurt> [Accessed 24 June 2021].

Surgery is usually reserved for very severe diabetic eye disease, such as when there has been a significant haemorrhage into the eye from abnormal blood vessels.

Who is at risk of Diabetic Retinopathy?

All patients with diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema (DME). The risk of developing disease increases with the duration of diabetes and poor blood sugar control

Does Diabetic Retinopathy need treatment?

Early or mild diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema may not necessarily require treatment. Ensuring that the blood sugar levels are well-controlled can lower the risk of progression to more severe diabetic eye disease. Our doctors will communicate and work with your general practitioner and/or endocrinologist to try and optimise control of your diabetes as well as other aspects of your general health.

If treatment is required, options include laser, injections of medication into the eye, and surgery. Your doctor will discuss with you which of these treatments are most appropriate for you.

How do I know if I have Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy does not always present with symptoms and it is therefore important for all diabetic patients to have regular eye examinations. Early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease is often associated with a better outlook for vision over the long-term.

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Links to authoritative resources on diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye). Click here to read more.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease. Diabetic retinopathy usually only affects people who have had diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed) for a significant number of years. Click here to read more.

People with diabetes can have an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell and leak. Or they can close, stopping blood from passing through. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. All of these changes can steal your vision. Click here for more information.

Our Brisbane eye specialists

We are dedicated to providing you with the best possible eye health and vision outcomes

Dr Nick Toalster, MBChB, FRANZCO

Specialist ophthalmic surgeon

I am an ophthalmologist with advanced training in cataract, corneal and glaucoma microsurgeries. As both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist, I am particularly well placed to lead the emerging field of eye disease management.

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Dr. Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO

Brisbane Eye Surgeon

I am a specialist ophthalmic microsurgeon, internationally trained retinal surgeon, medical retinal diseases specialist, and cataract surgeon. With a career that spans over 15 years, I have mastered the ability to achieve precise results with the aim of helping patients regain their confidence and youthful energy.

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Dr Judy Ku, MBChB, FRANZCO

Specialist ophthalmic surgeon

I am a specialist in glaucoma, cornea & external diseases and cataract surgery. I am passionate about assisting my patients to achieve their full visual potential. I feel extremely privileged to have the opportunity to restore sight and to improve people’s quality of life.

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