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Don't Lose Sight of Diabetic Eye Disease

Special to Informer | , Nei | 10/18/2011, 1:38 p.m.

Thousands of American adults at risk of losing their vision as a result of complications from diabetes

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.

"The longer a person has diabetes the greater is his or her risk of developing diabetic eye disease," said Dr. Suber Huang, chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for the National Eye Institute's (NEI) National Eye Health Education Program. "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 noticeable vision loss occurs."

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease and includes diabetic retinopathy, cataract, 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 NEI, 4.1 million people have diabetic eye disease and its prevalence is projected to increase to 7.2 million by 2020.

While all people with diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and older adults 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.

Clinical research, supported in part by NEI, has shown that maintaining good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol can slow the development and progression of diabetic eye disease. In addition to regular dilated eye exams, people with diabetes should do the following to keep their health on TRACK:

* Take your medications.

* Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

* Add physical activity to your daily routine.

* Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

* Kick the smoking habit.

"Don't lose sight of diabetic eye disease," added Dr. Huang. "Don't wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam because vision that is lost often cannot be restored."

For more information on diabetic eye disease and tips on finding an eye care professional or financial assistance for eye care, visit www.nei.nih.gov/diabetes or call NEI at 301-496-5248.

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