Diabetes: A Top Cause Of Blindness Among Adults

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Americans aren't taking their eye health as seriously as they should, particularly when it comes to protecting their eyes from the potentially blinding effects of diabetes and diabetic eye disease.

According to the AOA's 2007 American Eye-Q survey, more than 60 percent of adults know that diabetes is detectable through a comprehensive eye exam. However, only 32 percent of adults who do not wear glasses or contacts, have seen a doctor of optometry in the past two years. The annual American Eye-Q survey identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and related issues.

With nearly two-thirds of adults not receiving regular, comprehensive eye exams, millions of Americans are not only putting their vision, but also their health, at risk. In fact, diabetes is a top cause of new cases of blindness among adults.

"More than 21 million Americans have diabetes, and perhaps of even greater concern, more than 6 million Americans are unaware that they have the disease," said Dr. Jorge Cuadros, AOA's Diabetes Eye Care Expert and University of California School of Optometry professor. "In addition to overall health complications, diabetes can cause vision changes and ultimately lead to blindness."

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Optometrists can serve as the first line of detection for diabetes, since the eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through the skin. All individuals with known diabetes need to have dilated eye exams each year; despite the fact that only four out of ten Americans recognize that diabetic patients should have their vision checked annually, according to the 2007 American Eye-Q.

"It is especially important for individuals who are at high risk for diabetes to visit an eye doctor regularly for dilated eye exams," said Dr. Cuadros.

According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 (40.1 percent of the U.S. population in this age group) have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Early detection is critical in maintaining healthy vision. Additionally, several factors influence whether someone with diabetes develops diabetic retinopathy. These include controlling blood sugar control and blood pressure levels, the length of time with diabetes, race and family history.

Be sure to see an optometrist if your vision becomes blurry; you have trouble reading signs or books; experience double vision; feel pressure in your eyes; encounter straight lines appearing indistinct; or your side vision is limited.

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