Hundreds of thousands of Australians with diabetes at risk of eye damage and blindness

Latest figures reveal 1.25 million Australians have known diabetes with an additional 108,000 Australians diagnosed with diabetes in just the past 12 months.

The figures have prompted renewed calls from Diabetes Australia for people with diabetes to have regular eye checks.

“Every person with diabetes is at risk of diabetes related retinopathy. Nearly all people with type 1 diabetes, and almost 60 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes, will develop some form of eye disease within 20 years of diagnosis,” said Professor Greg Johnson, CEO of Diabetes Australia .

“That means more than 700,000 people with diabetes could develop some form of eye disease over the next 20 years. We want to ensure that every person with diabetes is aware of the risk to their vision and has regular eye checks.”

Diabetic Macular Oedema is one of the most common manifestations of diabetic retinopathy and as part of Macular Degeneration Awareness Week (21 – 27 May), Diabetes Australia is urging people to get checked.

“Diabetes-related eye disease is often asymptomatic until it reaches an advanced stage and outcomes of late treatment are usually inferior to early treatment,” Professor Johnson said.

“The good news is that early detection and timely treatment can prevent the majority of diabetes-related vision loss – in fact, 98 per cent of diabetes-related vision loss can be avoided if detected early.

“I urge people to get their eyes checked if they have not had a check or are unsure.”

Professor Johnson said Diabetes Australia was also calling for a more systematic screening program in Australia.

“The total indirect cost of vision loss associated with diabetic macular oedema in Australia is estimated to be $2.07 billion per annum,” he said.

“The great opportunity is for more systematic screening using retinal photos that can detect eye damage early and lead to more effective treatment for preventing vision loss.

“Australia needs a National Diabetes Blindness Prevention Initiative - the evidence is in. Retinal screening programs in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Poland and Sweden have all dramatically decreased the incidence of diabetes-related blindness.”