Spread the Word About Diabetic Eye Disease

Woman gets an eye exam

November is National Diabetes Month, and health organizations around the world are urging people to be tested for the disease. Untreated, diabetes can lead to heart problems, stroke, kidney disease and amputations. Experts say that surprisingly few people know about one of the most devastating complications of the disease: its effect on the eyes. Diabetic eye disease is one of the major causes of vision loss.

The good news is that many cases of diabetic eye disease can be prevented, slowed or halted. How tragic to lose one's vision if it doesn't have to happen!

Here are things people with diabetes can do to protect their eyesight.

Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for managing your diabetes. This might include:

  • Keeping your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible.
  • Checking your blood sugar regularly.
  • Taking medications as directed.
  • Eating a healthy diet as recommended by your doctor.
  • Getting plenty of exercise.
  • Quitting smoking.

Watch your all-around health. Along with adhering to your diabetes management plan, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control, and maintain a healthy weight.

Educate yourself about diabetic eye disease. Several types of eye problems are caused or worsened by diabetes:

  • Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease, affecting 3 million older adults in the U.S. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. Later, abnormal blood vessels may grow and can cause scarring and serious vision loss.
  • Diabetic macular edema occurs when the damaged blood vessels swell and leak fluid, causing swelling in the macula, the central area of the retina responsible for fine vision that allows us to recognize faces, read, and see objects in fine detail.
  • Diabetes doubles the risk of cataracts, which are a clouding of the lens of the eye. The risk also is doubled for glaucoma, an increase in the pressure of fluid inside the eye that can damage the optic nerve and destroy vision.

Get regular eye exams. People with diabetic eye disease seldom notice any symptoms until damage has already been done. The National Eye Institute (NEI) advises people with diabetes to get a comprehensive, dilated eye exam at least once each year. In this exam, special eye drops widen the pupil of the eye, allowing the doctor to look inside and detect any abnormal blood vessels, retinal swelling or other abnormalities. The test is painless.

Learn the symptoms. Be aware of signs that could mean that diabetic eye disease has progressed to the stage where it could be damaging your vision:

  • Blurry vision.
  • "Floaters" that look like spots in your vision.
  • Halos around lights.
  • Reduced central vision.
  • Loss of color vision.

Report these signs right away. Early detection of diabetic eye disease allows for the best treatment. The sooner the better! Depending on the type of diabetic eye disease a person has, treatment might include medications, laser treatments, injections or surgery. It’s very important for a patient to keep their follow-up appointments.

If treatment fails to improve a patient's vision, vision rehabilitation specialists can instruct them in strategies and devices to help them make the most of the vision they have left. Learn more in the February 2017 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter.

Raising awareness could save the sight of millions.

The NEI reports that only 10 percent of older adults in the U.S. are aware that they could have diabetic eye disease even if they have no symptoms. Yet early detection and treatment reduces the risk of blindness by 95 percent! So spread the word. The NEI offers some great free online resources. Check them out, and share with older loved ones, especially those who have diabetes.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.