The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, are living with diabetes. An additional 84.1 million have prediabetes, which if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes. Although nearly 1 in 4 adults with diabetes don’t even know they have it, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness for adults ages 20-74 in the United States. Fortunately, the CDC also states that around 90% of diabetes-related vision loss can be prevented if caught early.
Diabetic retinopathy is a disease of the retina found in patients of either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. High glucose levels (or blood sugar) cause damage to blood vessels in the eye, leading to permanent partial or complete vision loss.
There are two stages of diabetic retinopathy:
People with diabetic retinopathy often don’t notice symptoms in the early stages or don’t take them seriously. Because the retina is located at the back of the eye, there are no visible symptoms.
Here are the most common symptoms to watch for:
Vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is in many cases irreversible, so it’s better to catch it sooner than later.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure is the first step in preventing diabetic retinopathy. Some patients with diabetic retinopathy who take steps to control their blood sugar may notice a slight improvement in their vision. However, in some cases, controlling your blood sugar is not enough and treatment may be required.
Treatments recommended may include:
Although controlling your blood sugar is important, a study found that healthy glycemic control was not enough to prevent diabetic retinopathy in all cases. The only guarantee to preventing vision loss from diabetic retinopathy is to have yearly comprehensive eye exams. In a dilated eye exam, an eye doctor can see into the back of your eye and look for signs of damaged blood vessels or swelling in the retina, allowing you to take action before vision loss occurs. The best way to maintain your healthy vision is through preventative care.
Dr. Akers is a primary care optometrist with the Marietta Eye Clinic. She also specializes in ocular diseases and works with eye surgeons to provide ocular surgery co-management. She serves the Kennestone and Towne Lake offices. Dr. Akers received her doctor of optometry from the University of Alabama School of Optometry. She completed an ocular disease residency with the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and a low vision rehabilitation residency with the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital Blind Rehabilitation Center. She is a member of the American Academy of Optometry. Read more about Dr. Akers here.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry (O.D.), optometric professionals, and optometry students.
Annual Eye Exams Can Save Sight for People with Diabetes
What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes
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