You can’t feel it. You can’t see it—until it’s too late. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common form of diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults age 20–74. It occurs when diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy affects 7.7 million Americans, and that number is projected to increase to more than 11 million people by 2030. Many African Americans are included in these statistics. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than 800,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and this number is projected to increase to approximately 1.2 million people by 2030.
Dr. Paul Sieving, director of NEI, says, “Only about half of all people with diabetes get an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam, which is essential for detecting diabetic eye disease early, when it is most treatable.”
With no early symptoms, diabetic eye disease—a group of conditions including cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy—can affect anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. African Americans are at higher risk for losing vision or going blind from diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of African Americans have diagnosed diabetes.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for diabetic eye disease. Once vision is lost, it often cannot be restored.