Eye-opening advice for people living with diabetes 8 December 2014 A diabetes diagnosis can be a fairly daunting time for many. To add to the challenges, you may also read or hear about the potential diabetes complications, such as vision impairment and loss of limbs. The great news is almost all serious complications can be prevented or delayed by managing your condition well and staying on top of what is called your ‘annual cycle of care’ – a checklist designed to assist you and your health team in keeping your diabetes care on track. A recent report by the International Diabetes Federation found the greatest concern for people with diabetes was their vision being affected. But just like other complications, almost all serious vision loss can be prevented by getting your eyes checked regularly by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. This is a key part of your ‘annual cycle of care’. Optometrist Adam Lusk took the time to chat to Diabetes Queensland about what members can expect from their appointment. Why see your optometrist? Optometrists check the overall health of your eyes, including detecting signs of a serious complication called diabetic retinopathy. If an issue is identified, your optometrist may monitor your condition through follow-up appointments or refer you to an ophthalmologist – a medical specialist. “Like other organs in the body – diabetes affects the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye,” said Adam. “One in four people with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy at some point in their life.” Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes to the small blood vessels at the back of the eye, a complication of diabetes, which, if left untreated, can eventually lead to blindness. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher their chances of developing diabetic retinopathy. “The majority of people that I see with diabetic retinopathy would, fortunately, only have a very mild to moderate degree of it and those people often have no symptoms,” Adam said. If not managed, diabetic retinopathy will progress from mild or moderate to severe and there may also be swelling of the macular. These complications will affect a person’s ability to read, drive or see fine detail. Adam said it was important for people with diabetes to keep on top of their appointments because the earlier stages of diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms. That means by the time you start getting symptoms the effects may be too far along to treat. “The earlier the detection the better,” he said. “Also, if we’re seeing changes at the back of the eye, there’s a likelihood that the rest of the body is suffering in the same way. “I’ve had instances where I’ve detected diabetic retinopathy before the patient was aware they had diabetes. The likelihood is they’ve been blissfully unaware they’ve had diabetes for maybe the last five or 10 years.” *Top tips for your appointment * consider organising a friend or relative to pick you up after the appointment your eyes may be sensitive to light and your vision blurry after a retina test, which requires drops to dilate your pupils keep sunglasses handy to protect your eyes if they’re sensitive when you leave. *Tell us about treatmentsâ€¦ * Laser procedures by an ophthalmologist are one of the most common treatments used to treat diabetic retinopathy, and often performed on people who are experiencing the effects of the later stages of the condition. “The main outcome is to stop the damage to the small blood vessels in the retina from getting worse,” Adam said. For people worried about the cost, almost all optometrist appointments are bulk billed and you can ask when making your appointment. Adam Lusk’s top tips for preventing diabetic retinopathy talk to your GP or diabetes educator about your individual blood glucose targets have your blood pressure checked when you see your GP or specialist and have your cholesterol checked don’t smoke get your eyes checked at least every two years or more frequently if recommended.