Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. 956,000 Australians have Type 2 diabetes while 120,000 Australians have Type 1 diabetes. One in four people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina from diabetes). Elevated blood sugar levels cause damage to the micro-circulation, and the eye is unique as it is the only place in the body it is possible to directly view this damage.
Diabetic retinopathy can be:
1) Non-proliferative- this can be mild, moderate or severe. On clinical examination, areas of bleeding in the retina (intraretinal haemorrhages), microaneurysms or changes in the veins (venous beading) may be seen.
2) Proliferative- in proliferative disease, abnormal fragile new blood vessels form. These can bleed causing sudden visual loss in one eye ( vitreous haemorrhage), contract and pull off the retina causing visual loss ( tractional retinal detachment) or block the drainage angle in the front of the eye causing the pressure in the eye to rise and subsequently damage the optic nerve ( neovascular glaucoma).
Diabetic macular oedema can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when diabetes causes swelling at the central part of the eye responsible for fine vision and can cause severe central visual impairment.