The month of November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Diabetes has become so common in the United States that, according to the CDC’s statistical report on the disease, 9.3% of the population of the United States has the disease; this number translates to 29.1 million people. Also, 27.8% of the people who have the disease are undiagnosed. Did you know that the number one cause of blindness amongst working class Americans is Diabetes? When you consider that over one fourth of the people who have diabetes are undiagnosed, he or she is not only not getting the medical care needed to treat the disease, he or she is also putting themselves at a great risk for potential eye damages and even blindness.
Diabetes can lead to a wide variety health complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, stroke, kidney disease, and vision loss. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among working-age Americans. Diabetes is a risk factor for developing glaucoma, as well as for developing cataracts, but the most common and debilitating vision problem experienced by diabetics is diabetic retinopathy.
Today 3.6 million Americans ages 40 and older suffer from the diabetic retinopathy. During Diabetic Eye Disease Month Friends for Sight encourages individuals with diabetes to take preventative measures and protect their eyes from the devastating effects of diabetes.
As described by the National Eye Institute, "[diabetic retinopathy] in its early stages, has no symptoms. The disease begins to damage the small blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensing layer of tissue in the back of the eye, causing them to leak fluid and blood. As the disease progresses, blood vessels become blocked and rupture or new vessels grow on the retina, leading to permanent and sometimes profound vision loss." While the effects of diabetic retinopathy are profound, there are effective treatments available. Vision loss can be prevented if early diagnosis and timely treatment are sought.
Diabetes can also affect your vision by causing cataracts and glaucoma. If you have diabetes, you may get cataracts at a younger age, and your chances of developing glaucoma are doubled.
How to stay on TRACK to protect vision
Diabetic eye disease often has no symptoms in its early stages, and the only way to detect it is through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Other things that people with diabetes can do to delay or slow down the progression of diabetic eye disease include:
T — Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
R — Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A — Add more physical activity to your daily routine.
C — Control your ABCs—A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
K — Kick the smoking habit.
While treatments are available, they are significantly more effective when the disease is detected early. A comprehensive eye examination by an eye care professional should be completed yearly. In addition to yearly eye exams, those with diabetes must control their blood sugar levels, get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy well-balanced diet, and take medications as directed.