Get regular eye tests

Diabetes experts urge regular eye tests

Diabetes-related eye disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness among working-age adults in Australia, yet up to 50 per cent of Australians with diabetes do not undergo eye examinations at the recommended frequency of every two years.


Diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin, a hormone which helps balance the levels of sugar in your blood. 


Western Sydney is facing a growing health concern due to the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes which is at 13 per cent in adults – higher than the national and state average.  


Western Sydney Diabetes (WSD) was established in response to the growing threat diabetes poses to our community’s health and wellbeing. 


It is co-led by Western Sydney Local Health District, Western Sydney Primary Health Network (WentWest), Diabetes Australia and Department of Planning and Environment to address the Western Sydney diabetes hotspot. 


Over time, diabetes can damage blood vessels in the heart, kidneys, nerves and can cause permanent vision loss in the eye

Mark Howcroft gets the back of his eye tested by optometrist Joe Nazarian from Nazarian Optometrists in Blacktown.

Lilly Psomadelis, an Optometrist and Eye Health Educator with Sight For All, an Alliance Partner of WSD, said most people are aware of the harm it can cause to vital organs such as the kidneys and heart, but not the significant impact on the eyes.


“This disease includes diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma, which can all result in devastating vision loss if left untreated,” Ms Psomadelis said.


She said people with diabetes should get their eyes tested every 12 to 24 months.


Diabetic retinopathy, the most common eye condition associated with diabetes, occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in a part of your eye called the retina, leading to bleeding, leaking, and swelling.


One in three Australians living with diabetes experience some form of this condition, which can lead to progressive visual impairment and potentially to blindness if left untreated.


Diabetic macular oedema occurs when fluid leaks into the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. This can cause the macula to swell, leading to blurred vision and difficulty seeing fine details. 


Cataracts can also develop because of diabetes, causing the lens of the eye to become cloudy and making it difficult to see in low light conditions. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at an earlier age than people who don’t have diabetes. 


Glaucoma are a group of eye diseases that can develop because of diabetes. It occurs when there is damage to the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain. This can lead to vision loss if left untreated.


When Mark Howcroft, 63, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2017, it was during the pre-op blood tests he was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.


He was told to head straight to his GP to support him to control his glucose levels or they couldn’t operate.


He doesn’t know how long he’s had it as he hadn’t had a blood test in three years prior to the operation.


But it was meeting another patient with diabetes that changed his life. 


“This poor guy had lost half his foot, half his other leg and was blind in one eye,” Mr Howcroft said. “He could see the look on my face, and he said

‘that’s the diabetes’. The last thing he said to me was, ‘Mate, one bit of advice: don’t do what I did, look after it’. 


“It was good for me to see what could happen if I don’t control my diabetes. So many are in denial.”


Mr Howcroft gets his eyes checked every 12 months and ensures he is checking his blood sugar levels, staying active and eating well. 


Diabetes can be prevented by:  

• Early detection and follow-up;

• Managing blood sugar levels; 

• Quitting smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels; and

• Maintaining a healthy weight.


Western Sydney Local Health District provides several initiatives including community education programs, screening services and support groups for people with diabetes.

Western Sydney Diabetes staff specialists have put together a video discussing the importance of eye checks here