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Out of Sight – A report into diabetic eye disease in Australia

Affecting an estimated 300,000 Australians, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in image-toolsAustralians under 60, affecting them during the prime of their working lives.

Out of Sight – A report into diabetic eye disease in Australia by the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, looks at the impact of diabetic eye disease in our country and what we can do to combat this leading cause of irreversible blindness.

Almost all people with type 1 diabetes, which typically develops in childhood, and 60 per cent of those with type 2 diabetes, will develop some form of diabetic eye disease and many will go on to experience vision loss or blindness as a result within 20 years of their diabetes diagnosis.

Tania Withers, 40 from Parkdale in Melbourne knows first-hand the devastating impact of diabetic retinopathy. “I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 11 and struggled to manage my condition during my teenage years and into early adulthood. At 23, my eyesight started deteriorating and I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. I felt so guilty because I had not attended regular eye examinations, despite being warned by doctors and diabetes educators. Unfortunately, by this stage my retinopathy was advanced and despite several rounds of laser and surgery, I was totally blind within three months.”

Author of the report CERA’s Dr Mohamed Dirani said, “Findings in the report indicate that currently up to 50 per cent of Australians with diabetes do not undergo eye examinations at the recommended minimum frequency of every two years.”

Diabetic retinopathy worsens over time and if left untreated can lead to irreversible blindness. Diabetic macular oedema (DME), commonly seen in the later stages of diabetic retinopathy, occurs when the leakage of fluid affects the macula, the central part of the eye responsible for clear central vision – it is the single leading cause of vision loss in diabetes.

According to Dr Peter van Wijngaarden, ophthalmologist and a lead researcher in diabetic retinopathy at CERA, “Much of the vision loss that occurs in diabetes can be prevented. The key steps in doing so are to optimise the control of diabetes and to attend regular eye checks so that treatments can be administered at the most appropriate time. Sadly it is all too common that patients present with advanced disease that is difficult to treat.”

Out of Sight – a report into diabetic eye disease in Australia was authored by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), and was sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant provided by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Australia.