Sydney, Australia, 17 November 2016: Member of Federal Parliament, Matt Thistlethwaite, has taken the World Diabetes Day message ‘Eyes on diabetes’ seriously, subjecting himself to a retinal examination during a visit to the Brien Holden Vision Institute, based at the University of New South Wales Australia.
A routine eye examination by an optometrist, which can reveal changes to the retina, is one way that undiagnosed diabetes can be detected. Fortunately for Mr Thistlethwaite, he received a clean bill of health from the Head of Clinical Research, optometrist Daniel Tilia.
According to the International Diabetes Federation around 415 million people were living with diabetes in 2015 – expected to increase to 642 million (or one in 10 adults) by 2040. About 5 million people die from complications of diabetes each year; one every 6 seconds.
And there’s a reason why this year’s campaign focussed on eye health. More than 93 million adults (or one in three living with diabetes) have a complication which affects vision, known as ‘diabetic retinopathy’. Undetected and untreated diabetic retinopathy can lead to impaired vision and, at its worst, blindness.
Professor Brian Layland OAM, Chair of Brien Holden Vision Institute, says in Australia there may be as many as 1.6 million people with diabetes and as many as one in two are unaware that they have the condition.
“Uncontrolled diabetes can result in sudden changes in vision and patients may seek an eye examination when they find they can read without their reading glasses or that they need their reading glasses worn on top of their distance glasses to read,” he said. “More serious changes in the blood vessels in the retina produce no symptoms until real damage is done. Retinal haemorrhages may cause severe vision impairment and, depending on the location of the haemorrhage, blindness may result.”
A regular eye examination, including examination of the retinal blood vessels, will detect the presence of retinopathy and allow treatment of the diabetes, which may prevent or delay the development of complications including vision impairment. Many people with diabetes are found to have diabetic retinopathy at the time the diabetes is diagnosed. This indicates that they may have had diabetes for some years without being aware of its presence.
Optometrists at the Brien Holden Vision Institute, in association with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW, have been examining the eyes of Aboriginal people in NSW since 1999. In some communities as many as 40% of people have been diagnosed with diabetes. Overall, about 20% of all Aboriginal patients examined have had diabetes and about 16% of these people have some evidence of diabetic retinopathy.
Professor Layland says poor diet and physical inactivity have led to a higher incidence of diabetes in many countries. “Although type 2 diabetes is appearing in younger age groups, if you are 45 years or over and obese, have a family history of diabetes and are from a country known to have a high incidence of people with diabetes, you should be checked for diabetes by your GP and have the interior of your eyes examined by your optometrist,” he said.