Diabetes is a Leading Cause of Blindness

Diabetes is a Leading Cause of Blindness

Although half of the 14 million Americans with diabetes have some form of diabetic eye disease, health officials report that many are not having their eyes examined regularly to prevent possible vision loss or blindness.

Diabetic eye disease is a group of sight-threatening conditions that people may develop as a complication of diabetes. These include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.

Because diabetic eye disease often has no early symptoms, it is crucial for all people with diabetes to have an eye examination through dilated pupils at least once a year. This will allow early detection and treatment of eye disease before severe vision loss occurs.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. It develops when blood vessels in the retina, the light-absorbing membrane at the back of the eye that transmits visual images to the brain, undergo changes that may make them fragile and leak fluid. These changes, which increase in severity over time, may also cause new and unstable blood vessels to grow on the retinal surface. This further damages the tissue.

Although laser surgery can significantly reduce the risk of vision loss or blindness from diabetic retinopathy, thousands of Americans still lose their sight each year to this disease because they do not seek help from an eye care professional when the problem is most treatable. In fact, one study of patients with diabetes found that over half of those who might benefit from laser surgery had never been treated.

Other eye diseases that may impair the vision of people with diabetes are cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens, and glaucoma, a condition of the eye that leads to optic nerve damage. Both diseases are twice as likely to occur in people with diabetes as in those without the disease.

The best way to detect diabetic eye disease is to have an eye examination in which drops are placed in the eye to dilate the pupils. Dilation gives the doctor a better view of the eye's interior to check for early signs of disease.

Diabetic retinopathy can be treated in certain stages of the disease. If necessary, Dr. Esquibel will recommend laser surgery to reduce the risk of severe vision loss, but not all cases of diabetic retinopathy require surgery. The most important prevention for diabetic retinopathy is to control the diabetes systemically, to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year.