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Diabetes is the Leading Cause of new Cases of Blindness among Most Adults
It is estimated that 12,000 to 24,000 people unnecessarily lose their vision yearly because of diabetes complications that can often be prevented through early detection and timely treatment. Eye exams are a key component to early detection.

"Individuals who are diabetic or are at risk of developing diabetes need to have a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilation at least once a year," says John Lahr, O.D., FAAO Vice President of Provider Relations and Medical Director for EyeMed Vision Care.

"Diabetic retinopathy, damage to the eyes retina, can occur in 80-90% of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes with over a 10-year history. This potentially blinding complication of diabetes can be diagnosed and management steps taken as a result of the dilated eye exam. A comprehensive eye exam also can uncover signs that may have risk to overall health such as high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, which have clinical signs that can be detected during a dilated eye exam as the eye is the only place within the body that blood vessels can be observed without invasive procedures."

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye. It changes light and images that enter the eye into nerve signals that are sent to the brain.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans. People with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are both at risk for this condition.

Having more severe diabetes for a longer period of time increases the chance of getting retinopathy. Retinopathy is also more likely to occur earlier and be more severe if your diabetes has been poorly controlled.

Almost everyone who has had diabetes for more than 30 years will show signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Oftentimes, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until the damage to your eyes is severe.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
  • Blurred vision and slow vision loss over time
  • Floaters
  • Shadows or missing areas of vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night

Many people with early diabetic retinopathy have no symptoms before major bleeding occurs in the eye. This is one reason regular yearly eye exams are promoted in diabetic patients.

Prevention & Treatment
Key prevention tools for diabetic retinopathy include:
  • Maintaining blood sugar (glucose), blood pressure, and cholesterol levels within a normal range
  • Smoking cessation

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy may not need treatment, however close monitoring by an eye doctor trained to treat diabetic retinopathy is highly recommended.

Laser eye surgery creates small burns in the retina where abnormal blood vessels exist. This process is called photocoagulation. It is used to keep vessels from leaking or to get rid of abnormal, fragile vessels.

  • Focal laser photocoagulation is used to treat macular edema.
  • Scatter laser treatment, or panretinal photocoagulation, treats a large area of the retina. Several sessions for treatment may be needed.

A surgical procedure called a vitrectomy is used when there is bleeding (hemorrhage) into the eye. It may also be used to repair a retinal detachment.

Drugs that prevent abnormal blood vessels from growing, and corticosteroids injected into the eyeball, are being investigated as new treatments for diabetic retinopathy.

If you cannot see well:
  • Make sure your home is safe so you do not fall
  • Organize your home so that you can easily find what you need
  • Get help to make sure you are taking your medicines correctly

Early detection is the key. Diabetes is a progressive disease. Loss of vision or blindness may occur if you are not following the basic steps to take care of your diabetes:
  • Monitoring blood glucose levels, keeping them within a normal range
  • Take prescribed medication and keep routine physical exams with your health care provider
  • Get active, if your physician allows
  • Learn what you can eat, as well as when and how much you can eat
  • Call the VNA! Our diabetes education experts can assist you and answer your health related questions

Key Facts about Diabetes:

More than 21 million people in the United States have diabetes.
6.2 million people with diabetes are unaware they have the disease.
An estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 (40.1 percent of the U.S. population in this age group) have prediabetes a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.
People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma.
People with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts.
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