November Is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month
Early detection preserves vision.
Earlier this year, the healthcare advocacy group Research!America polled a diverse group of people across the U.S. regarding their fears about various diseases and ailments. Many of the people polled said that blindness would be the worst health problem that could happen to them, even more so than Alzheimer's disease, cancer, or the loss of hearing or speech.
The concern of these Americans is valid. Vision loss lowers the quality of life—and, according to Purdue University researchers, it also lowers the length of life. Prof. Sharon Christ recently explained that people with visual decline face an increased mortality risk resulting from a decreasing ability to perform the activities of daily living, such as using the telephone, shopping and preparing their own meals.
With our aging population, an increase in the number of people living with vision loss is inevitable. Some age-related changes in our vision are minor, easily overcome with glasses or contact lenses, or with low-risk surgery. But other eye diseases and conditions are more serious. Glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration rob thousands of seniors each year of their independence and mobility. Eye damage resulting from diabetes also is a major cause of vision loss—and the rise in diabetes cases may be growing even faster than the rise in our senior population! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of Americans are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime.
What is diabetic eye disease?
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems affecting people who have diabetes. This includes cataracts and glaucoma, but the most common type is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20 – 74 years of age. In this condition, the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes cause the blood vessels of the retina to swell, leak fluid or become blocked. Sometimes abnormal new blood vessels grow on the retina. Diabetic retinopathy can result in severe vision loss.
Reducing the risk of diabetic eye disease
The good news is that people with diabetes can lower their risk of developing diabetic eye disease. The National Eye Institute (NEI) urges people with diabetes to keep their health on TRACK:
Take your medications.
Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Add physical activity to your daily routine.
Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Kick the smoking habit.
Diagnosis and treatment
Prevention is the best step to protect against the damage caused by diabetic eye disease. But although diabetic eye disease cannot be cured, ophthalmologists offer a number of treatments to reduce or halt the loss of vision. This can only happen if the problem is detected early enough—and unfortunately, patients may not notice that anything is amiss during the early stages. So regular eye exams are extra-important for people with diabetes.
Says the NEI's Dr. Paul A. Sieving, "The longer a person has diabetes, the greater his or her risk of developing diabetic eye disease. If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but can be detected early and treated before vision loss occurs. Don't wait until you notice an eye problem to have a dilated eye exam, because vision that is lost often cannot be restored."
These organizations offer consumer information about preventing, diagnosing and treating diabetic eye disease: