64% of Aussies with diabetes don’t know it can affect their eyes

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness in Australia. Two of the most common diseases affecting the macula include diabetes-related eye disease (such as diabetic retinopathy) and age-related macular degeneration.

Despite macular disease being the leading cause of blindness in Australia, a YouGov Galaxy study commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia, indicates that 91 per cent of Australians are unsure or unaware of the function of the macula.[1]

One of the most common diseases affecting the macula, diabetes-related eye disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness in working-aged Australians. Yet, alarmingly, the study shows that 64 per cent of those diagnosed with diabetes are unaware that the eyes can be affected by diabetes.

Ms Dee Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Macular Disease Foundation Australia, says the findings of this study are concerning.

Ms Hopkins says, “With the prevalence of diabetes in Australia expected to grow significantly, ensuring that diabetes-related eye disease is prevented has never been more vital.  As the national peak body for macular disease in Australia, we are working to change the behaviour of those at risk of diabetes-related eye disease, as we have done with great success for people with or at risk of age-related macular degeneration – to ultimately save sight.

“Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing vision loss from diabetes-related retinopathy[2] and should have their eyes tested every two years.  If diabetic retinopathy has been detected, the individual should have their eyes checked at least once a year.  It may be that more frequent examinations are required, depending on the level of retinopathy.”

Professor Greg Johnson, CEO of Diabetes Australia agrees that the study findings are concerning, particularly given the prevalence of diabetes in Australia.

“Around 1.7 million Australians are currently living with diabetes. Approximately 1.2 million know they have the condition, while an estimated 500,000 people are living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.[3] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are up to four times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to have diabetes or pre-diabetes.[4]

“Of the 1.2 million people who have been diagnosed, 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.[5], [6]

“It is also important for people at risk of type 2 diabetes to get their eyes checked. For some people, a visit to the optometrist or ophthalmologist could be the first time a health professional notices the signs of type 2 diabetes,” says Professor Johnson.

Ms Hopkins says, “Many macular diseases can often be effectively managed if detected early, and most vision loss from diabetic eye disease is preventable. The key is eye-health management and risk reduction.  Encouraging patients to make an appointment with an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam, including a macula check, is an important first step.

“No matter what age, if people experience sudden changes in their vision they need to have their eyes tested immediately.

“We all have an important role to play in helping patients to recognise the risks and manage macular health.  With greater information from their health care professional, as well as help to access the right services and resources, professionals can ensure their patients have the best possible macular health plan in place.”

While the study showed that there has been improvement in the number of people having their macula checked, when it comes to reducing the risk of macular disease, the study also shows 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.

According to Macular Disease Foundation Australia, there are some steps that can reduce the risk of macular disease.  These include:

  • Regularly have a comprehensive eye test and ask about your macula,
  • Quite smoking,
  • Maintain an eye-healthy diet and lifestyle.

Ms Hopkins says, “Knowledge is definitely power in the defence against macular disease, so it’s imperative that Australians learn what they can do to minimise their risk.

“During Macula Month, we hope that people think about their macula health; learn the risk factors associated with macular disease; have a regular, comprehensive eye examination and ask about their macula.”

Macular Disease Foundation Australia is an excellent source of information about macular disease, support services and entitlements.  If you would like to access information for a patient, or for your practice, phone 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au



[1] Guidelines for the Management of Diabetic Retinopathy. NHMRC 2008.

[2] Guidelines for the Management of Diabetic Retinopathy. NHMRC 2008.

[3] https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/diabetes-in-australia

[4] https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islanders

[5] Guidelines for the management of diabetic retinopathy, NHMRC 2008

[6] S. Keel, J. Xie, J. Foreman, P. van Wijngaarden, H.R. Taylor, M. Dirani. The prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy in Australian Adults with Self-Reported Diabetes: The National Eye Health SurveyOphthalmology, 124 (7) (2017), pp. 977-984.

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