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Awareness of diabetic eye diseases lacking – MDFA poll

A survey of Australia’s working-age population has revealed that most can’t name the most common cause of blindness among their age group – diabetic retinopathy (DR).

This is despite a higher proportion of respondents knowing that diabetes affects the eyes, compared with other body parts such as the feet, kidneys and heart.

Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) has shared the results of a YouGov poll it commissioned, showing only 29% of Aussies aged 50 to 70 have heard of DR, while only 26% are aware of diabetic macular oedema (DMO).

Dee Hopkins.

DR is the most common diabetic eye disease and the top cause of blindness in working-age Aussies, affecting between 300,000 and 400,000 people, according to MDFA. The organisation notes that around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, and that figure is expected to climb past two million by 2025, driving a surge in diabetic eye disease.

The study was commissioned to mark Macula Month, MDFA’s annual awareness campaign each May urging at-risk Aussies to check their macula. The survey comprised 1,049 Australians aged between 50 and 70 and was conducted online between 18-22 February 2021.

“Although 82% identified the eyes as a body part that diabetes can affect – higher than feet (74%), kidneys (68%), and even the heart (53%) – the lack of awareness of what these conditions are called means many people who are at risk remain in the dark about these sight-threatening complications,” MDFA said.

MDFA CEO Dee Hopkins is concerned that most people can’t name DR.

“Diabetic retinopathy claims the eyesight of more working-age Australians than any other eye condition, yet less than 30% of people know its name,” Hopkins said.

However, more than two thirds of people polled are having regular eye checks.

“The YouGov study showed that 68% of respondents have had an eye examination and/or macula check in the last two years – more than other health checks such as cholesterol (66%), bowel cancer screenings (51%), glucose/diabetes (44%) and skin checks (36%),” MDFA said.

Dr James Muecke.

MDFA Ambassador and 2020 Australian of the Year, Adelaide ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke AM, said DR is the only reversible macular condition.

“If you control your diabetes, or if you are able to put your type 2 diabetes into remission, you can turn this blinding disease around. We want people to not only understand the name of the disease, we want everyone to take action to avoid its devastating outcome,” he said.

“This is easily done through regular eye examinations and managing your diabetes. When the disease is picked up early, you can make lifestyle changes and access good treatments that maintain sight and prevent severe vision loss.”

MDFA’s annual Macula Month awareness campaign in May will urge even more Australians to book an eye exam through the Check My Macula tool (www.CheckMyMacula.com.au).

The short online quiz reveals individual risk factors for macular disease – including diabetic eye disease – in less than a minute, then helps users make an appointment with their nearest optometrist or schedule a reminder to have an eye exam in the future.

“Tens of thousands of Australians have already taken the Check My Macula quiz, and many more will join them this Macula Month,” Hopkins said.

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