The Observatory

Diabetic Eye Disease – the next big challenge

Dee Hopkins

For those diagnosed with diabetes, managing the core disease can be an intimidating prospect. Add to this a long list of potential health complications they will need to be vigilant of, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney damage, and it’s not surprising to learn that eyes are not high on the radar.

Although understandable, a YouGov Galaxy study commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia for Macula Month 2018, has highlighted some alarming results.It has revealed that 64 per cent of Australians diagnosed with diabetes are unaware that the eyes can be affected by diabetes1.

When you consider that everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing vision loss from diabetic eye disease, and that there are currently 1.7 million Australians living with diabetes (approximately 1.2 million know they have the condition, while an estimated 500,000 are living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes)2 these are concerning results.

Of the 1.2 million people who have been diagnosed with diabetes, more than 300,000 (between 25 and 35 per cent) have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and about 65,000 have progressed to sight-threatening eye disease.3,4

Given this high prevalence of diabetes in Australia, the good news is that vision loss from diabetic eye disease is preventable. Whether people are diabetic or not, there are some steps that can be taken to help maintain the health of the macula and reduce the risk of macular disease. This can be as simple having a regular comprehensive eye test and macula check, eating an eye friendly diet, and modifying or managing lifestyle choices.

As way of background, macular disease is a term used to describe a number of diseases that affect the macula (located at the centre of the retina, at the back of the eye). Two of the most common diseases affecting the macula are diabetic eye disease (such as diabetic retinopathy) and age-related macular degeneration.

The macula is responsible for our detailed central vision – in other words, what we see straight in front of us. Which is why your eye health and, in particular, the health of your macula is something you do not want to risk.

As the national peak body for macular disease in Australia, we’ve taken up the challenge to change the behaviour of those at risk of diabetic eye disease, as we have done with great success for people with or at risk of age-related macular degeneration - to ultimately save sight.

We all have an important role to play, which is why we plan to work in collaboration with key stakeholders from within the healthcare sector, including eye care professionals, peak body organisations and government, to ensure those at risk of diabetic eye disease have access to preventive and management information and services.

The consumer survey did contain some good news.  It shows that the number of Australians aged over 50 who are aware of having their macula checked in the last two years has risen from one in three in 2007 to two in three in 2018. This is a direct result of the work of the Foundation in encouraging those at risk of age-related macular degeneration (those over 50) to have an eye test and macula check.

While there has been improvement in the number of people having their macula checked, when it comes to reducing the risk of macular disease, the survey showed that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Australians aged 50 and over don’t know what to do to reduce the risk of macular disease. So there is definitely still work to do.

During Macula Month, we want all Australians at risk to think about their macula health; learn the risk factors associated with macular disease; have a regular, comprehensive eye examination and ask about their macula.

[1]‘Awareness of macular disease’, study conducted by YouGov Galaxy, commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia between 1 and 4 March, 2018, comprising 1,020 Australians aged 18 years and older.

2https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/diabetes-in-australia

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About the Author

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Dee Hopkins

Dee Hopkins is the Chief Executive Officer of Macular Disease Foundation Australia. She has had an extensive management career in Canberra leading and influencing key organisations like Carers Australia ACT and as a Director with Medicines Australia. Dee has spent many years advocating for, and securing policy change in support of carers, and vulnerable Australians affected by ageing, disability, mental illness and chronic illness. Read more by this author →

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