Individuals with Diabetes at Increased Risk for Eye Diseases

by | Nov 1, 2013 | News

Diabetic RetinopathyDuring American Diabetes Month®, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP) are encouraging Americans with diabetes to schedule annual dilated eye examinations, depending on their particular examination findings and their optometrist’s recommendations to help detect and even prevent eye and vision disorders that could lead to blindness. Diabetes is a disease that interferes with the body’s ability to use and store sugar, which can cause many health problems. Too much sugar in the blood can cause damage throughout the body, including the eyes. 

Each year, 12,000 – 24,000 people lose their sight because of diabetes.  According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million people in the United States, or 8.3 percent of the population, have diabetes (2012). An estimated seven 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. 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.

Results from the AOA’s 2012 American Eye-Q® consumer survey revealed that only 44 percent of Americans are aware that diabetic eye disease often has no visual signs or symptoms. Additionally, 43 percent of American’s don’t know that a person with diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam once a year.

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 percent 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 percent 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 and the NJSOP recommend 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 and the NJSOP offer 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