Who Needs a Diabetic Eye Exam?

29th Apr 2024
diabetic eye checkup melbourne

Did you know that certain groups of people are at a significantly higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy than others?

Some people think that if they don’t have a family history of diabetes, they’re not at risk for diabetes related vision loss. They don’t appreciate the importance of having a diabetic eye exam. But they are making a serious mistake.

I’m Minh Van Tran, the owner and principal optometrist at VisionPro, where we are dedicated to serving the Footscray and St. Albans communities in Melbourne. Our practice holds a special place in these suburbs, particularly among the East Asian population, known to face a higher than average risk of developing diabetic retinopathy – an eye condition that can cause vision loss and blindness in people who have diabetes

By being informed about whether you are in a demographic group at higher risk, you can take proactive steps towards early detection and management of diabetic eye conditions. But ignoring the signs and risk factors might result in late diagnosis, where treatment options become limited and less effective.

Immediate action can prevent irreversible damage; so make your eye health a priority and book your consultation with VisionPro today.

Or keep reading to learn why you might be in a high risk group, and the steps you need to take.


Why Should I Get Regular Diabetic Eye Exams?

Diabetic retinopathy affects 30 percent of people with diabetes.

It is the leading case of preventable blindness in adults.

Diabetic retinopathy triggers progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye, essential for visual clarity. Initially, the disease causes changes in the blood vessels of the retina, leading them to weaken, bulge, or leak fluid into the surrounding tissues. As it advances, abnormal new blood vessels may develop, further disrupting the retinal structure.

Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy:

  • Early Stage: In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, known as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), small blood vessels in the retina begin to weaken and leak fluid or blood. This may result in the formation of microaneurysms and small hemorrhages, which can be detected during a comprehensive eye examination.
  • Advanced Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: As the disease progresses, more severe changes occur in the retina, leading to advanced non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR). In this stage, blood vessels become blocked, depriving the retina of oxygen and nutrients. This can cause areas of the retina to become ischemic, leading to the development of cotton wool spots and intraretinal microvascular abnormalities (IRMAs).
  • Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy: The most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy is proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). In this stage, new blood vessels begin to grow on the surface of the retina, a process known as neovascularization. These abnormal blood vessels are fragile and prone to bleeding, leading to vitreous hemorrhage and tractional retinal detachment if left untreated.

Understanding the early signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Similarly, recognizing the different stages of the disease allows for appropriate management and intervention to prevent vision loss and complications. Regular diabetic eye exams are essential for monitoring the progression of diabetic retinopathy and ensuring optimal eye health.


diabetic retinopathy check melbourne


Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

To protect your vision from diabetic retinopathy, awareness of risk factors is key. Some important factors that can heighten your chances of developing this condition.

  • Unstable Blood Glucose Levels: Fluctuating blood sugar levels can harm the blood vessels in your retina, increasing the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is crucial for minimizing this risk.
  • High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: Hypertension and high cholesterol levels can damage blood vessels throughout your body, including those in your eyes. This damage raises the risk of diabetic retinopathy and other eye issues.
  • Smoking: Smoking narrows blood vessels and reduces oxygen supply to your eyes, accelerating the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Quitting smoking is essential for protecting your vision.
  • Age: As we age, changes occur in the blood vessels and tissues of our eyes, making us more vulnerable to diabetic retinopathy.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy-related hormonal changes and shifts in blood volume can impact blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Close monitoring during pregnancy is vital for eye health.
  • Family History and Ethnicity: Having a family history of diabetic retinopathy or belonging to certain ethnic groups can predispose you to the condition due to genetic factors and socio-economic influences.

The following studies have identified groups that are statistically at higher risk to suffer from diabetes related eye conditions.

Varadhan et al., 2007           South Asians
Raymond et al., 2009 South Asians
Wang et al., 2013 Chinese
Sivaprasad et al., 2012 African, South Asian
Chia et al., 2022 Indigenous Australians

Understanding the risk factors associated with diabetic retinopathy is crucial for proactive eye health management. By controlling modifiable factors such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and smoking, and staying vigilant with regular diabetic eye exams, you can reduce the chances and severity of diabetic eye complications.

Watch the following video by Dr. Nikhil Pal to learn more about who is at risk and the types of diabetic eye exams that are typically performed.



Age-Related Risk Factors

Managing diabetes and monitoring the associated eye damage becomes increasingly challenging as we age. The body’s ability to regulate blood sugar can deteriorate over time, making it harder to maintain the tight control necessary to prevent complications such as diabetic retinopathy.

Additionally, the natural aging process can complicate the detection of early signs of eye damage, as older adults often experience a range of vision changes unrelated to diabetes.

This overlap can mask the early symptoms of retinal damage, delaying diagnosis and intervention. Therefore, regular diabetic eye exams are crucial, as they allow healthcare providers to detect and treat changes in the retina before they progress to serious vision impairment.

Staying vigilant about changes in vision can help manage the risks of vision loss effectively, ensuring a higher quality of life despite the complexities introduced by aging and diabetes.


Correlation With Kidney Disease

People with kidney disease are indeed at a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Both diabetic retinopathy and diabetic kidney disease (nephropathy) are complications of diabetes and often occur together because they share similar risk factors and underlying mechanisms.

The presence of kidney disease in a person with diabetes generally indicates that there has been significant damage to the blood vessels, which can also affect the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy.

Poor control of blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and the duration of diabetes further elevate this risk. Regular monitoring of both eye and kidney health is essential for individuals with diabetes to manage these risks effectively.


When to See Your Optometrist for a Diabetic Eye Exam

Understanding when to schedule a diabetic eye exam and recognizing the signs that warrant an immediate visit to your optometrist are critical components of managing your health when you have diabetes. It’s essential to be vigilant about any changes that might indicate emerging issues.

  • Recognizing Urgent Signs: If you notice any sudden changes in your vision, such as blurriness, floaters, dark areas of vision, or difficulty perceiving colors, these could be signs of diabetic retinopathy or other eye-related complications from diabetes. Such symptoms require prompt attention from your optometrist to prevent permanent damage.
  • Scheduling Regular Check-Ups: For individuals with diabetes, it’s recommended to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. These exams allow your optometrist to detect early signs of retinal damage before you even notice any vision problems, ensuring timely intervention. Even if your vision seems fine, diabetes can cause changes in the eyes that may not immediately affect your vision but can lead to severe complications if left unchecked. Regular diabetic eye exams are crucial for catching these changes early, often before they lead to irreversible damage.

Whether it’s adhering to the recommended annual check-ups or responding to emergent vision changes, seeing your optometrist regularly provides a critical defense against the potential eye damages associated with diabetes.



Certain demographic groups, including those with fluctuating blood glucose levels and a family history of diabetes, face a higher risk of diabetic eye diseases. Age and ethnicity also plays a factor in diabetic retinopathy risk.

Diabetic retinopathy can affect individuals with any form of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, which appears during pregnancy. The likelihood of developing diabetic retinopathy escalates with the duration of the diabetes diagnosis.

Neglecting your eye health can lead to a rapid deterioration of your vision, making everyday activities and tasks increasingly difficult. Don’t wait for symptoms to tell you something’s wrong; proactive eye exams can safeguard your vision and keep you ahead of diabetic retinopathy.

Scheduling an eye exam appointment is the first step to restoring or maintaining quality of life.

Click on the “BOOK AN APPOINTMENT” button OR call either our St. Albans (03) 9364 5509 or Footscray (03) 9687 8787 optometry practices.