By Arghavan Almony, M.D., Diabetic Eye and Retina Specialist, Carolina Eye Associates
Did you know that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans? Diabetes affects nearly 30 million Americans, and the National Eye Institute estimates that 45 percent (13.5 million) Americans living with diabetes have some form of diabetic eye disease.
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes and may lead to blindness. Eye problems that affect those who have diabetes include cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially blinding condition in which the blood vessels inside the retina become damaged from high blood sugar levels. This damage prevents the eye from receiving the blood and oxygen it requires and may lead to severe vision loss. It is the most common vision complication associated with diabetes.
- A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Cataracts tend to develop at a younger age in people with diabetes, especially if the blood sugar levels are not controlled.
- Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve—the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the eye to the brain. Some types of glaucoma are associated with elevated pressure inside the eye. Diabetes can double the chance of developing glaucoma.
All forms of diabetic eye disease have the potential to cause severe vision loss and blindness.
To maintain healthy vision with diabetes, eye doctors recommend the following:
- Get a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least once a year (more often if recommended by your doctor).
- Work with your medical doctor to control your blood sugar.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Exercise regularly.
- Quit smoking, or never start.
Diabetics can live with diabetic eye disease for a long time before noticing any symptoms or changes in their vision. Typically, noticeable symptoms do not appear until significant damage to the eye has already occurred.
Early diagnosis and management of diabetes significantly reduces the risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Because the symptoms of diabetic eye disease do not typically present until the condition is severe, it is crucial to schedule a dilated comprehensive eye exam at least annually (and sometimes more often). Early detection of diabetic eye disease and treatment may prevent blindness.
Treatment options depend on the type of diabetic eye disease, but include injections, laser, and surgical procedures to stop the progression of the disease.
Established in 1977, Carolina Eye Associates is one of the largest eye care facilities in the Southeast. The practice provides a full range of the most advanced and state-of-the-art medical and surgical eye care services. For more information on diabetic eye disease or other services offered by Carolina Eye Associates, call (800) 733-5357 or visit www.carolinaeye.com.