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Loss Of Vision Is Largely Preventable

Diabetic Retinopathy -

Loss Of Vision Is Largely Preventable

Early detection and timely treatment can substantially reduce the risk of severe visual loss or blindness from diabetic eye disease.

Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes, is a serious eye condition. It is a leading cause of preventable blindness in adults aged 40-64 years. Approximately 115,000 New Zealander’s have known diabetes which is more prevalent among Maori and Pacific Island peoples. Around 30% of people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, while 3% have threatened sight.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

High blood sugar levels can weaken the blood vessels in the eye’s retina, which can leak blood or fluid. This causes the macula (part of the retina) to swell and form deposits that can lead to vision loss - macular edema. Blood sugar levels can also promote the growth of new fragile blood vessels on the retina, which can break easily and leak into the retina - proliferative retinopathy. If proliferative retinopathy goes undetected and untreated, serious visual loss will occur in more than 50% of those affected.

Risk Factors among those with Diabetes

- High blood glucose levels

- High blood pressure

- High cholesterol

- Smoking

- Pregnancy

- Length of time a person has had diabetes - the longer someone has had diabetes the greater their risk of getting diabetic retinopathy


Diabetic retinopathy often has no early symptoms. There may be some blurred vision when the macula swells from the leaking fluid. But often vision does not change until the retinopathy has progressed to the proliferative stage. Initially there may be spots floating in your vision that come and go. Later vision may become cloudy.


- A visual acuity test using eye charts to measure how well people can see at various distances.

- A comprehensive dilated eye exam.

- Examination of the retina by ophthalmoscopy or fundal photography to see if there is any damage to the optic nerve.

- Tonometry - fluid pressure of the eye is tested through the use of a tonometer or other methods.

- A fluorescein angiography where special dye is injected into the arm and pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels.


Laser surgery is used to treat severe macular edema and proliferative retinopathy. Surgery, called vitrectomy, may take place if cloudy vision or scarring has occurred.

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