Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas fails to produce the hormone insulin in sufficient amounts, or the body fails to respond to the insulin properly (insulin resistance) once it is produced. Insulin is needed to convert glucose (sugar) from our food into energy. Without sufficient insulin, the glucose stays in our blood. High levels of glucose in our blood (hyperglycaemia) over an extended period can lead to many long term complications. These complications may arise throughout the body, commonly manifesting in the eyes, kidneys and nerves as a result of damage to blood vessels.
Patients with diabetes commonly develop changes in the retina (the tissue inside the eye which is like the film in a camera, pre digital age...). These changes are known as diabetic retinopathy which occurs when tiny blood vessels inside the retina are damaged. The damage can block off small blood vessels, starving areas of the retina of blood, or make the vessels leak, causing swelling and bleeding. If untreated, this can lead to severe vision loss or blindness. More than 70 per cent of Australians with diabetes will develop changes to their eyes within 15 years of diagnosis. It is important to have regular eye examinations, as early diabetic retinopathy may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As with most eye diseases, the earlier any damage is found the better the treatment and prognosis is; so if you have diabetes, make sure you have a full eye examination at least once every year or as advised by your optometrist, ophthalmologist or GP.
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