Diabetes and the Eye

Diabetes can affect the eye in many ways, including damage to the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye (diabetic retinopathy). Diabetes can lead to earlier development of cataract (opacity of the lens of the eye), and can damage the nerves that control the muscles that move the eye, leading to double vision. Diabetes can also damage the cornea (the front window of the eye). If you have diabetes, it is important to manage your blood sugars to reduce the risk of vision impairment from diabetes. All patients with diabetes should be regularly screened to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy. It is important to ensure optimum control of blood sugar levels, blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors.



Diabetic retinopathy is a significant cause of vision impairment in Australia. It has been estimated that over 800 000 Australians have diabetes, with this number expected to rise. About one in four people with diabetes are estimated to have some evidence of diabetic retinopathy.



Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is characterised by small areas of bleeding within the retina, swelling of the retina due to leaking from damaged blood vessels, and areas of damaged retina due to impaired oxygen supply (cotton wool spots).



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Lack of oxygen supply to the retina can cause fragile new blood vessels to grow in the wrong place in the retina. This is known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. The new blood vessels may bleed causing loss of vision, or cause traction on the retina.


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Diabetic maculopathy is also a significant cause of vision impairment. The macula is the central part of the retina that allows us to see fine detail. This part of the retina can swell in patients with diabetes, and affect one’s ability to read and see things.




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Our surgeons are experienced in dealing with patients that have both cataract and diabetes.