Take the time to think about your vision
Today is World Sight Day. This year’s theme is Eye Care Everywhere. In Australia, approximately 90% of vision loss and blindness is preventable or treatable and can be attributed to five main conditions – refractive error, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma. What can be done? Plan for an eye examination. CERA encourages all Australians to protect their vision and ensure they get their eyes tested. Learn more about World Sight Day.
Improving access to eye health services is instrumental in tackling vision impairment. We spoke to Dr Stuart Keel, Research Fellow at CERA, to learn more about his exciting work in artificial intelligence (AI) and diabetic retinopathy and how CERA’s researchers are working towards helping to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to sight.
Tell me about your work at CERA.
A key focus of our work relates to measuring the magnitude of vision loss and its causes in non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australian populations. This data allows us to identify high-risk groups in the population that benefit from focussed eye health care delivery. Together with Prof Mingguang He, we have developed and validated a novel artificial intelligence-based screening tool to detect referable diabetic retinopathy and other leading causes of vision loss. This automated screening system offers the potential to enable screening for major eye diseases to be performed in Australian endocrinology and GP clinics, thereby improving the accessibility of screening services and enabling more referrals to ophthalmology services.
If so much of eye disease is avoidable, why is it so prevalent?
It is estimated that 90% of all vision loss is avoidable. However, as highlighted by the 2016 National Eye Health Survey, around 50% of major eye diseases, including diabetic eye disease and glaucoma, are undiagnosed. Many eye conditions are asymptomatic in their early stages and by the time individuals experience symptoms, it is often too late. In addition, an ageing population, low awareness of the importance of regular eye exams, and limited availability of eye health care services in rural and remote areas, contribute to missed or delayed diagnosis of eye disease.
Why is it important for people with diabetes to think about their eye health?
Diabetic eye disease affects over 30% of patients with diabetes and is a leading cause of vision loss amongst working aged adults. Despite this, nearly all (~90%) cases of vision loss from diabetic eye disease are avoidable by early detection and timely intervention. Effective diabetes management, including control of blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol can delay the onset, and slow the progression, of diabetic eye disease. Provided it is detected early, signs of vision threatening diabetic eye disease can be successfully treated via laser surgery and ocular injections. It is clear that continued efforts are required to improve the availability of eye care services and awareness of the importance of regular eye examinations.
What can Australians do to take care of their eye health?
I would implore all individuals to undergo more regular eye examinations as they age, to ensure that no one goes needlessly blind. Insufficient eye examination frequency amongst older adult’s results in delayed detection of common blinding eye diseases. The majority of vision loss cases in Australia and globally can be corrected overnight with the appropriate pair of spectacles or cataract surgery.