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Vision Health

How to Stop Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetes, one of the most serious health issues today, affects more than 9 percent of the U.S. population. Although we’re accustomed to think of it primarily in terms of excess weight, the illness carries other risks as well, including that of diabetic eye disease.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that diabetic patients may face as a complication of their illness. They include diabetic retinopathy, in which the eye’s blood vessels are damaged; cataracts; and glaucoma.

The statistics are shocking: the most common form of diabetic eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, is the leading cause of blindness in adults between the ages of 20 and 7. Currently 7.7 million people over 40 have diabetic retinopathy, and that is estimated to increase to about 11 million people by 2030.

Additionally, the risk of diabetic eye disease in general grows the longer a person has diabetes.

Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of NEI, emphasizes the importance of taking proactive steps to avoid diabetic eye disease. “If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year,” he says.

“Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but can be detected early and treated before vision loss occurs. Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have a dilated eye exam, because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”

But with early detection, treatment and follow-up care, people with diabetic retinopathy can “reduce their risk of severe vision loss by 95 percent,” says Suber Huang, M.D., M.B.A., chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for the NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program.

Other steps to lower risk include maintaining control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. Doing that improves diabetics’ overall health as well.

To help patients develop and keep up healthy routines, the NEI has created the TRACK system:

• Take your medications.

• Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

• Add physical activity to your daily routine.

• Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

• Kick the smoking habit.

For more information on diabetic eye disease and tips on finding an eye care professional or financial assistance for eye care, visit www.nei.nih.gov/diabetes.

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