Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness

If you have diabetes, are you aware that you are at risk for vision loss? Every day in America, 55 people lose their eyesight from diabetes, and diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74. People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma, and they are at an increased risk for developing cataracts.

Diabetic retinopathy can be developing when vision is normal, which is one reason it is recommended that diabetics have yearly dilated eye exams. According to Dr. Layman of the American Optometric Association, between 12,000 and 24,000 people unnecessarily lose their vision yearly because of diabetes complications that can often be prevented through early detection and timely treatment. In fact, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol can be detected through routine eye exams.

A dilated eye exam is a special type of exam that lets the doctor get a detailed look at the blood vessels behind the eyes. The exam is administered by using eye drops to make the pupil larger. When the pupil is enlarged, it provides the eye doctor with a better view of the inside of the eyes, making it easier to check for possible blood vessel damage.

Vision problems typically are caused by elevated glucose levels over time. Elevated sugar levels cause the lens of the eye to swell resulting in vision changes. Various types of diabetic eye problems can occur ranging from glaucoma and cataracts to retinopathy. Eye problems can develop slowly. You may not experience any symptoms until severe damage has occurred. If your vision is affected by diabetes you may notice blurred vision, headaches, eye aches, pain, halos around lights, dark spots, flashing lights, loss of vision and watering eyes. If you notice symptoms, get a dilated eye exam immediately.

One of the best ways to prevent vision problems is by keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels within a normal range. The goal for someone with diabetes is to maintain a fasting blood sugar between 80-120 and post-prandial or two hours after meals of 140 and below. Diabetics need to maintain a blood pressure of 130/80 and below. Another way to prevent vision loss is to maintain normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you smoke, quit. Elevated glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels along with smoking restrict blood vessels, therefore increasing the risk for eye damage.

In 2009, the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center tracked the number of diabetes patients who did not have a yearly dilated eye exam. Our findings concluded that less than one-third of our patients were following-up with an ophthalmologist. In fact, several of our patients over the age of 40 had never had an eye exam. A recent survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA), the American Eye-Q™, revealed that while more than 60 percent of adults know that diabetes is detectable through a comprehensive eye exam, only 38 percent of adults who do not wear glasses or contacts have been to an eye doctor in the last two years. Patients stated they hadn’t had the exam for a variety of reasons ranging from cost and access to simply not realizing its importance.

The Diabetes Management Center staff emphasizes the importance of annual dilated eye exams to all our diabetes patients. We educate our patients on community assistance programs and mobile eye exam units traveling to the area. For more information on diabetes-related programs, call the Diabetes Management Center at 865-977-5767.

Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.

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