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Why you need to keep an eye on your eyesight if you have diabetes
Our sight is something most of us fear losing the most. Protecting it is one of the most important things we can do to help maintain quality and enjoyment of life. And for anyone with diabetes, it’s vital to be vigilant because there’s a higher risk for glaucoma, cataracts (‘clouding’ of the eye’s lens) and diabetic retinopathy.

The good news is that in most cases the serious visual loss that can be part and parcel of diabetes can be prevented with regular eye examinations and treatment – the earlier the better.

It’s estimated that about 75% of people with diabetes in Australia will develop diabetic retinopathy. The risk is greater for those who have had diabetes for a long time or if their blood glucose isn’t well controlled. Signs and symptoms include blurred vision, floaters and spots, blank or missing areas of vision, double vision and difficulty seeing well at night. Often there are no signs or symptoms until the condition is quite advanced.

There are two stages. Background or non-proliferative retinopathy is when the weaker blood vessels begin to leak. At this stage there may be no noticeable change in vision, but without treatment it can progress to the more serious proliferative retinopathy where the retina grows new (and weaker) blood vessels that can bleed onto the retina or the vitreous (the jelly like centre of your eye). At this stage vision can be affected suddenly and seriously.

Eye examination

5 tips for protecting your eyesight

  • See an eye specialist or optometrist when you are first diagnosed with diabetes and at least every 1–2 years afterwards. If retinopathy is detected, you will need to have your eyes examined more often and you may be referred to a ophthalmologist. Get in touch with your eye care professional immediately if you notice any changes in your vision.
  • Because diabetic retinopathy is likely caused by both chronic high blood glucose levels and variation in blood glucose, the best way to prevent it is by keeping your blood glucose levels and HbA1c at recommended levels. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about this.
  • Your lifestyle matters. Being active every day and eating a healthy and balanced low GI diet will help you manage your blood glucose levels. The key dietary recommendations are – choosing nutritious carbohydrate foods with a low GI as your staples; being aware of how much carbohydrate you eat; getting plenty of fibre in your diet; limiting foods that are high in saturated fat; eating lean protein foods to suit your appetite including fish once or twice a week or if you are vegetarian, making sure you focus on including foods that contain quality proteins and are good sources of omega-3 fats; using monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil); eating plenty of fruit and vegetables every day and limiting your salt and alcohol intake.
  • If you have high blood pressure, research also shows that by reducing it you can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy, so do see your doctor for regular checks.
  • If you smoke, quit.

By taking these steps to protect your vision, you’ll also improve your diabetes management. Now that’s a win-win situation.