Diabetes affects nearly 26 million people in the United States. In addition, another 79 million people are estimated to have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts people at increased risk for diabetes. All people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are at risk for diabetic eye disease, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease and includes cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20–74 years of age. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), 7.7 million people age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy and this number is projected to increase to approximately 11 million people by 2030.
“The longer a person has diabetes the greater is his or her risk of developing diabetic eye disease,” said Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NEI. “If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but can be detected early and treated before vision loss occurs. Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”
While all people with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Hispanics/Latinos with diabetes are at higher risk of losing vision or going blind from it. All people with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam at least once a year to detect vision problems early.
“In fact, with early detection, timely laser surgery, and appropriate follow-up care, people with advanced diabetic retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 90 percent,” adds Suber Huang, M.D., M.B.A., chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for the NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program.
Research has shown that when people with diabetes maintain good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol they can slow the development and progression of diabetic eye disease.
In addition to having annual comprehensive dilated eye exams, people with diabetes should do the following to keep their health on TRACK: