Even though people with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing blinding eye diseases, a recent study of Medicare beneficiaries show that very few of the people at risk have a preventative yearly eye exam.

Facts About Diabetes

In the US there are 29.1 million that have diabetes, 21 million have been diagnosed and 8.1 million are undiagnosed. Unfortunately, if left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, increased LDL cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.

Although African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have diabetes, less than a third are aware of diabetic eye disease. And for those that have been diagnosed with diabetes, where a yearly eye exam is considered essential, ¾ of them have not had an eye exam in five years.

Diabetic Eye Disease – 3 Ways Diabetes Affects Vision

diabetic eye disease
Courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Diabetic retinopathy affects 28.5% of people 40 and older that have been diagnosed with diabetes. It happens when the blood vessels in the retina are damaged by leaking or blocking blood flow to the retina (the source of your central vision for reading, driving, recognizing faces, etc.) and if untreated, it can lead to complete blindness. In the very early stages there are no symptoms. And while there are some treatments that may help slow the progression of the macular edema, there is no way to regain sight that is lost.

Cataracts occur when there is a clouding of the eye’s lens, making your vision blurry or cloudy. While it is a normal for this to happen as a person ages, someone with diabetes is more likely to develop them at an earlier age. While beginning cataracts can be treated with glasses, when they become more advanced, cataract surgery will be needed to replace the cloudy lens with an artificial lens.

glauccoma diabetic eye disease
Courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
A person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults. Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve. The damage occurs when the pressure in the eye increases, squeezing the optic nerve and restricting its visual transmissions to the brain. Like diabetic retinopathy, you rarely notice any changes in your vision in the early stages, but as it progresses you begin to lose your peripheral vision. It can be treated with eye drops or surgery, but left untreated it can result in blindness.

Controlling Diabetes

Diabetes can be controlled, and some cases prevented, with careful attention to diet, watching your weight and exercise. Also learn your family medical history. You are at a higher risk of diabetes if a mother, father, brother or sister has the disease. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, make sure you have a yearly comprehensive eye exam to avoid vision loss. To learn more about diabetes go to www.ndep.nih.gov.

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice Pesident of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation

Diabetes Awareness Month & Diabetic Eye Disease