More than 30 million people living in the United States have diabetes and approximately one-third of Americans with diabetes (Type 1, Type 2, or gestational) can develop diabetic retinopathy, a progression of the disease caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, and left undiagnosed and untreated, this complication can cause vision loss or even irreversible blindness. Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the U.S. among adults ages 20 to 74, as well as the fifth most common cause of preventable blindness globally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined a list of eye health practices for diabetics, both to prevent onset of diabetes-related ocular disease and to slow worsening eyesight.
Below are several recommendations the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) for how we can improve our behavior to decrease our chances of eye disease related to diabetes:
- Get a dilated eye exam at least once a year to enable your eye specialist to spot any problems early, while they’re most treatable.
- Keep your blood sugar levels in your target range as much as possible. Over time, high blood sugar not only damages blood vessels in your eyes, it can also cause large fluctuations in your glasses or contact lens prescriptions.
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in your target range to lower your risk for eye diseases and vision loss. Also good for your health in general!
- Quit smoking. Quitting smoking lowers your risk for diabetes-related eye diseases and improves your health in many other ways too.
- Get active. Physical activity protects your eyes and helps you manage diabetes.
- Ask your doctor for a referral to diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services. People who receive less diabetes education are twice as likely to get diabetic retinopathy as people who receive more education.
- Educate your family and friends: Preventing vision loss and blindness is a leading public health challenge. Get yearly dilated eye exams to prevent and slow the rate of vision decline!