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All eyes on diabetes

All eyes on diabetes

On the eve of Diabetes Awareness Week, the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) is adding its voice to Diabetes New Zealand’s call for people with diabetes to look after their health.

In New Zealand, it is estimated that for each of the 105,000 people who have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, there is another person who has the condition and is not aware of it.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in the developed world.

Around a third of people with Type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy to some degree, while roughly 3% will have their sight severely threatened.

The risk of blindness increases for Maori and Pacific Island peoples, with 7% of Maori and 8% of Pacific Island peoples with Type 2 diabetes going blind compared with 2% of European people. (HFA: 2000).

Most blindness relating to Type 2 diabetes, however, can be prevented. Regular visits to an eye specialist such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect changes in the eye that indicate the existence of diabetic retinopathy.

The progression of diabetic retinopathy can be treated if detected early enough.

Chris Inglis, divisional manager of the RNZFB’s Blindness Awareness and Prevention division says, “It’s absolutely crucial for people to have regular eye checks.

“If you have diabetes, and you want to avoid losing your vision, make sure you take advantage of the free ‘Get Checked’ programme for people with diabetes.

“Your GP will be able to refer you to an optometrist or diabetes clinic to get your eyes screened free of charge. If they forget to refer you, make sure you ask them.

Ms Inglis also says, “If you don’t have diabetes, you still need to get your eyes tested every two to four years to ensure good eye health. And, if you experience any changes in your vision, see your eye specialist immediately.”

A common reason people give for not visiting an eye specialist is that they think the cost will be too high.

But Chris Inglis says that is no reason to put off an eye examination.

She says, “Shop around, because the cost can vary. For example, in Auckland an eye examination can cost between $35 and $55. And for people on a benefit, WINZ may be able to help pay the fee if the person meets WINZ eligibility criteria.

“Ultimately, it comes down to deciding how much an eye examination will cost compared with the value of being able to see. That $50 spent on the eye examination may be the best $50 you’ll ever spend.”

The RNZFB urges all New Zealanders to support Diabetes Awareness Week (18 - 24 November), by getting their eyes checked, eating well and staying well.

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