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American Diabetes Month reminder: have a comprehensive eye exam

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
American Diabetes Month, eye exam, cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy

November is American Diabetes Month. The American Optometric Association (AOA) is reminding Americans with diabetes about the importance of scheduling annual, dilated comprehensive eye exams to help detect and even prevent eye and vision disorders that could lead to blindness.

The eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through the skin; thus, an eye doctor is able to examine the retina for early warning signs of diabetic eye disease and prescribe a course of treatment to preserve an individual’s sight. The Each year, 12,000 to 24,000 individuals lose their sight because of diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million people in the US, or 8.3% of the population, have diabetes. An estimated 7 million Americans are undiagnosed, with Hispanics and African Americans at higher risk for developing the disease.

“Yearly, dilated eye exams given by a doctor of optometry are extremely important for those living with diabetes,” noted Paul Chous, O.D., a member of the AOA and author of Diabetic Eye Disease: Lessons From A Diabetic Eye Doctor. He added, “When the eyes are dilated, an eye doctor is able to examine the retina for early warning signs of diabetic eye disease and prescribe a course of treatment to preserve an individual’s sight. Many eye problems are silent until they are in an advanced stage, but early detection and treatment can truly save a person’s vision.”

The AOA notes that the results from its 2012 American Eye-Q® consumer survey revealed that only 44% of Americans are aware that diabetic eye disease often has no visual signs or symptoms. Additionally, 43% of American’s are unaware that a person with diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam once a year.

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Diabetic Eye and Vision Disorders
People with diabetes are at a significantly higher risk for developing eye diseases including glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, one of the most serious sight-threatening complications of diabetes.

Those with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterized by damage to the optic nerve resulting in gradual peripheral vision loss.
Many people without diabetes will get cataracts, but those with the disease are 60% more likely to develop this eye condition. People with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster. With cataracts, the eye's clear lens clouds, blocking light and interfering with normal vision.

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that causes progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. Damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina causes swelling of retinal tissue and clouding of vision. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.

Since early warning signs of diabetic eye and vision disorders are often subtle or undetected, the AOA recommends that high-risk individuals look for initial signs and contact a doctor of optometry if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Sudden blurred or double vision
  • Trouble reading or focusing on near-work
  • Eye pain or pressure
  • A noticeable aura or dark ring around lights or illuminated objects
  • Visible dark spots in vision or images of flashing lights

In addition to a having yearly, comprehensive eye exam, the AOA offers the following tips to help prevent or slow the development of diabetic eye diseases:

  • Take prescribed medication as directed
  • Keep glycohemoglobin test results ("A1c" or average blood sugar level) consistently under seven percent
  • Stick to a healthy diet that includes Omega 3s, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking

American Optometric Association
Diabetic Eye Disease