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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Diabetes and Eyes: What People Don’t Know Could Leave Them Blind

Posted: 11.20.2014

While people with diabetes are more likely to develop blinding eye diseases, recent studies have revealed low awareness of the issue among ethnicities at higher risk for diabetes and low uptake of preventive eye exams among affected Medicare beneficiaries. With the findings signaling that many Americans may not be defending themselves against diabetes-related vision loss, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology are sharing information about diabetic eye disease and dilated eye exams to encourage those with diabetes to take proactive steps to protect their vision.

Although Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely to have diabetes than most other ethnicities, a recent poll commissioned by the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research has revealed that only 27 and 32 percent (respectively) report to know about diabetic eye disease. In addition, while it is recommended that people with diabetes have a dilated eye exam every year, one study recently published in the journal Ophthalmology found that, among Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or diabetes – all conditions that require an annual eye exam – three-quarters of those who did not have an exam in five years were those living with diabetes.

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 – damage to the blood vessels in the retina
  • Cataract – clouding of the eye’s lens
  • Glaucoma – increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision

“Most people don’t know that diabetic eye disease is often asymptomatic. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect changes inside the eye before loss of vision begins.” said Harry W. Flynn, Jr., M.D., professor of ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

“Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-aged adults in the United States. In the beginning stages, the blood vessels in the eye leak, causing swelling of the retina. If diagnosed early, this swelling can be treated, which has shown to reduce vision loss,” says Flynn.

The best way to prevent diabetic eye disease is through strict control of blood sugar and blood pressure. These measures significantly reduce the risk of long-term vision loss. With annual eye exams and prompt treatment, few people progress to serious vision loss.

5 Tips to help prevent diabetes-related vision loss:

  1. Control your blood sugar. Choose high-fiber, low fat foods such as vegetables, lentils, beans and whole grains. Eat more fish and chicken. Avoid juice, soda, candy and fried or oily foods.
  2. Reach and stay at a healthy weight. Get regular physical activity. Thirty minutes a day can help prevent disease and 60 minutes a day can help you lose weight.
  3. Quit smoking.
  4. Get a comprehensive dilated eye examination from your ophthalmologist at least once a year.
  5. Call your ophthalmologist immediately if you are having any vision problems or if you have had a sudden change in your vision.