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Experts call for higher retinal screenings this national diabetes week

Diabetes, the fastest growing epidemic of our time, is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Australians under 60.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that damages blood vessels inside the retina by making vessels leak or blocking them, leading to vision loss if not treated. The condition affects about 300,000 Australians and almost all diabetic patients within 20 years of diagnosis. Swelling of the macula – diabetic macular oedema – is a leading cause of vision loss in diabetes with an increased incidence of cataract and refractive change also contributing.

Although detection and timely treatment can prevent nearly all cases of severe vision loss and blindness, data shows that only 50% of Australian diabetics undergo eye examinations at the recommended frequency of every two years.

With 280 Australians developing diabetes every day and the number of people with diabetic macular oedema predicted to increase by 42% in the next 15 years, eye health experts are calling for more awareness of diabetic eye disease.

“It is important we emphasise the relationship between diabetes and eye health. Patients must not underestimate the risks associated with diabetic retinopathy and should undergo the recommended retinal screenings,” said Dr Rowan Porter, ophthalmologist, expert in indigenous eye health and RANZCO Queensland Branch Chair.

“Indigenous Australians have higher rates of diabetic retinopathy compared to non-Indigenous people and require more frequent screening”.

While diabetes prevalence is much higher among Indigenous Australians, only 20% receive the recommended annual screening for diabetic retinopathy. In Queensland, The IDEAS (Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening) Van Initiative is reducing preventable blindness from diabetes by providing 30 screening cameras that are used in 51 Indigenous communities across Queensland with images graded using telehealth, then providing a mobile ophthalmology facility to improve access for those in remote or disadvantaged areas.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) recommends all people diagnosed with diabetes have a screening at least every two years.

RANZCO is the peak training and education organisation for ophthalmologists – “eye doctors” – in Australia and New Zealand. It has supported or initiated many research projects, media releases and activities that have improved access to eye care for diabetics, especially in indigenous communities and the South Pacific Islands.

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Luke Vanem or Laura Sefaj at RANZCO on 61 426 842 121 and media@ranzco.edu

Last updated: November 29, 2018

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