The Fred Hollows Foundation is reminding people to have their eyes checked during National Diabetes Week.

Diabetes is a global epidemic that is the leading cause of blindness in the world’s working-age population. In Australia, it is our fastest growing disease. Approximately one million Australians are living with diabetes.

Many people are unaware of the link between diabetes and blindness and that a simple eye examination is the best way to test for it. Every day, about eight Australians lose their sight as a result of diabetes-related eye disease.

Dr Richard Le Mesurier, the medical director of The Fred Hollows Foundation, warns that diabetes could become the leading cause of blindness worldwide, with an estimated 177 million people at risk of diabetic retinopathy by 2035 due to poor access to eye health services.

A simple eye check, which leads to early detection, is the most cost effective way to attend to diabetic retinopathy early and treat it before it results in vision impairment or loss.

People at risk from diabetic retinopathy – which occurs when blood vessels inside the retina are damaged – are those who have poorly controlled blood sugar and blood pressure and those who have been living with diabetes for a decade or more.

Around 50 – 60 per cent of people living with diabetes develop diabetic retinopathy within 15 years.

The condition causes blurred or distorted vision that makes it difficult to work and go about daily life and can lead to blindness without surgery to clear blood and scar tissue.

An alarming aspect of diabetic retinopathy is its insidious nature. Despite the fact that the condition might damage a person’s retina, and therefore their sight, there are often no early symptoms.

National Diabetes Week is from 13-19 July.