November is American Diabetes Month, and it’s also the month when we are urged to learn more about a common cause of vision loss. Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, sponsored by Prevent Blindness (www.preventblindness.org), is an opportunity to educate the public about diabetic retinopathy, which robs the sight of so many. Prevent Blindness is the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health and safety nonprofit organization.
Today more than 8 million Americans have diabetic retinopathy, with that number expected to jump in the coming years, according to a study, The Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems.
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye conditions that affect people with diabetes, including:
Diabetic retinopathy—A leading cause of blindness in American adults, it is caused by damage to the small blood vessels of the retina, the seeing layer of the eye. Retinal blood vessels can break down, leak, or become blocked, affecting oxygen and nutrient delivery to the retina, impairing vision over time. More damage to the retina can occur when abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina and leak fluid or bleed. This can initially result in blurring of vision, and in late stages, retinal detachment and/or glaucoma.
Diabetic macular edema (DME)—DME is a complication of diabetes caused by fluid accumulation in the macula, the central portion in the retina, which is in the back of the eye and where vision is the sharpest. Vision loss from DME can progress over a period of months and make it impossible to focus clearly.
Diabetic eye disease also includes cataracts and glaucoma. Vision changes due to diabetic eye disease may include blurred vision, double vision, sudden increase in eye floaters, seeing halos around lights or flashing lights, and sudden loss of vision in one eye.
Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic eye disease. To help prevent diabetic eye disease, Prevent Blindness suggests:
- Maintaining good blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control.
- Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam and/or obtaining retinal photographs that are examined by an eye doctor, at least once a year, or more often as recommended by the eye doctor.
- Pregnant women who had diabetes prior to pregnancy should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam early in their pregnancy. The eye doctor may recommend additional exams during pregnancy.
- Keeping a healthy lifestyle that includes exercising regularly, not smoking and following a healthy diet. Talk to a dietician about eating habits and a doctor before starting an exercise program.
“It is imperative for anyone with diabetes to get an annual eye exam,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “Although there is no cure for diabetic eye disease today, vision loss can be lessened with early diagnosis and proper treatment from an eye care professional.”
Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers a yearly eye exam for diabetic retinopathy by an eye doctor who is legally allowed to do the test in the state. All people with Part B who have diabetes are covered.