Diabetes is often referred to as the epidemic of the 21st century. Approximately 1.7 million Australians are diabetic, with a further 280 Australians developing diabetes every day. Local optometrists Max Astri and Alek Sims, of Max Astri Optometrists, find many people diagnosed with diabetes don’t realise that diabetes can have significant and devastating effects on their eyes.
Max has always had a keen interest in ocular diseases, and has more than 40 years experience diagnosing and co-managing ocular disease. He says diagnosis of diabetes can be confronting and overwhelming for people and their first priority after being diagnosed is learning how to manage their disease.
“It’s understandable that initially many people don’t understand that diabetes can affect many parts of the body, including their eyes. Perhaps the most important advice I can give people newly diagnosed with diabetes is to really heed the advice of their doctor and other health professionals on how to manage their diabetes well,” he said. “Good management of diabetes right from when it is first diagnosed is crucial in avoiding complications”.
Max recommends that anyone who is diagnosed as diabetic have a comprehensive, dilated eye examination as soon as they are diagnosed so their vision can be monitored and any subsequent changes detected early. It is important they tell their optometrist that they have diabetes and how long they have had it.
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Alek agrees that early detection of any changes is vital. “Regular comprehensive, dilated examination is the best way to detect early diabetic changes at the back of the eye,” he said.
Diabetic retinopathy is a sight threatening complication of diabetes. Small blood vessels that feed the retina can be damaged by high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When damaged these blood vessels may leak or become blocked, leading to permanent eye damage.
Early diabetic retinopathy does not have any symptoms and damage can occur before people notice a change to their vision, which is why regular eye examinations are important. Alek said regular eye examinations for diabetic patients mean any issues can be diagnosed and treated appropriately. “The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk” he said.
General examinations are recommended every two years, however if diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed, then examinations are recommended more frequently.
The good news is that good diabetes management greatly reduces the risk of eye disease. Max says he has many patients who have been living with diabetes for decades who have been meticulous in the management of their diabetes and their eyes are basically problem free.