Diabetes and Eyes: What You Need to Know
Diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss among adults age 20 – 64 in the United States, yet 90% of diabetes-related vision loss is preventable. Unfortunately, Americans at higher risk for diabetes have the lowest awareness of diabetic eye disease. During National Diabetes Month this November, Southern Eye Associates, along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is sharing information about the different types of diabetic eye disease and reminding people about the importance of getting an annual dilated eye exam.
While “diabetic eye disease” is often used, people may be unaware that this term encompasses a number of diseases and conditions that can cause blindness if left untreated. These include:
- Diabetic Retinopathy affects 28.5 percent of people age 40 and older living with diabetes. It occurs when the small blood vessels in the eye change by swelling, leaking fluid or closing off completely, blocking blood flow from reaching the retina. In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy does not have symptoms, but can lead to changes in the eye, such as macular edema, which is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy and many of its related changes include laser surgery, medical injections and vitrectomy surgery in which blood and scar tissue caused by abnormal blood vessels is removed.
- Cataract occurs when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy, causing vision to become blurry, cloudy or dim. While this happens in many people as they age, those with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts than their peers without diabetes. Mild cataracts may be treated with eyeglasses, but once the cataract is advanced, it will require cataract surgery, in which the natural cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant known as an intraocular lens or IOL.
- Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve and peripheral vision. The damage to the optic nerve is usually caused by elevated pressure in the eye. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop glaucoma, which rarely has any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Glaucoma can be treated with medication such as prescription eye drops or with surgery, but will result in blindness if left untreated.
People with type 2 diabetes should get a dilated eye exam at the time of diagnosis and every year following. Those with type 1 diabetes should start receiving annual eye exams five years after their initial diagnosis.
Through its public education website, EyeSmart, the Academy also offers tools and information such as
- Vision simulators that show the impact of diabetic retinopathy: http://bit.ly/1wJEWgZ
- Videos about dilated eye exams: http://bit.ly/10CupJz
- Tips to help prevent diabetes-related vision loss: http://bit.ly/PJYQEE
Go to www.geteyesmart.org to learn more.