Diabetic retinopathy, also referred to as diabetes eye disease, is a complication of diabetes and is the world’s leading cause of blindness in the working age population.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy, also referred to as diabetes eye disease, is a complication of diabetes that affects the back of the eye. When someone has high and varying blood sugar levels, the blood vessels in the retina can become irreversibly damaged. Diabetes-related eye complications are common. If left untreated, they lead to deterioration of vision and ultimately blindness.
Can diabetic retinopathy be prevented?
Diabetic retinopathy does not show any visible symptoms of vision deterioration in its early stages. Early signs of the disease can only be diagnosed by an eye care professional as patients do not notice any changes themselves. Patients are only able to notice significant changes in their vision during later stages of the disease when the condition has deteriorated significantly.
If left undiagnosed, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness, yet in most cases, blindness is largely avoidable with effective diabetes management, regular eye screening, and timely treatment.
Can it be treated?
People with diabetes should have an eye examination when their diabetes is diagnosed. This should be followed by regular eye examinations and treatment if it’s needed. Early detection is the most important and cost-effective way to prevent blindness.
How common is diabetic retinopathy in the Pacific?
Diabetic retinopathy is now among the leading causes of visual impairment, and is overloading already stretched eye care services. Although uncommon a generation ago in most Pacific populations, the prevalence of diabetes has increased dramatically in recent years.
How can we tackle diabetic retinopathy?
Tackling diabetic retinopathy is much more complicated than cataract or refractive error. Unlike other conditions, diabetic retinopathy does not show any early stages of visual deterioration. We recognise these challenges and believe the scale of the diabetes problem requires a coordinated, government-led approach. We support comprehensive diabetic retinopathy services across the Pacific region by providing diabetes eye care training to doctors and nurses at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji; and raising awareness of diabetic retinopathy amongst the public and the wider health workforce.
Disclaimer: the content on this page is not intended to be medical advice. For medical advice, please contact your local health professional.