When it comes to dealing with diabetes, worrying about one's eyes may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, diabetics should be concerned about their eyes and eye sight since the disease can cause vision problems that can lead to blindness.
“Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in people 35 and younger,” said Dr. Darla Barrow of Barrow Eye Center.
Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina that can cause decreased vision and blindness. Diabetics are also at an increased risk for cataracts and glaucoma.
Barrow encourages people with diabetes to be especially when it comes to taking care of their eyes.
“It is very important to get yearly eye exams to monitor any changes and catch them early,” Barrow said.
Dr. Bill Webb explained that an eye doctor can view the retina so well and see vascular changes and hemorrhaging in the retina. Sometimes, Webb said, looking at the eye can reveal other problems throughout the body.
Webb said he has had patients come in because they thought they needed a new prescription for their glasses and it turns out they have diabetes related problems. He then refers them to another doctor to find out what is wrong.
“We see that so very often,” Webb said.
Webb said that it is important to catch some of these eye problems early in able to treat them.
Barrow said that in addition to getting yearly exams, diabetics should do their best to control their blood sugar. High blood sugar can cause changes in vision, she added.
Barrow said many patients with diabetes now seem to be aware of the need to take good care of their eyes. However, there are also many out there who do not make the connection between diabetes and eye problems.
In order to get the word out, throughout November- recognized nationally as American Diabetes Month and Diabetic Eye Disease Month- the Department for Public Health (DPH) is reminding Kentuckians living with diabetes of the importance of dilated eye exams.
DPH is joining the American Diabetes Association and Prevent Blindness America to raise awareness of this important issue. Health officials and educators are using this time to teach Kentuckians about diabetes, particularly the impact the disease can have on eyesight and how people living with the disease can live healthier lives.
“Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness in adults,” said William Hacker, M.D., acting undersecretary for health and public health commissioner at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). “Finding and treating retinopathy early, before it results in a loss of vision or blindness, is our best treatment option. That's why we recommend that people living with diabetes get annual dilated eye exams.”
Kentuckians of all ages and backgrounds live with diabetes. An estimated 376,000 Kentuckians have diabetes, with more than 109,000 of these individuals being undiagnosed. The commonwealth ranks seventh (tied with two other states) in the nation for the highest percentage of the adult population diagnosed with diabetes, according to DPH data.
For Kentuckians living with diabetes, appropriate medical care and self management are crucial to maintaining a healthy life despite the disease.
Trend data shows more people have been getting necessary dilated eye exams over the years, with an adjusted rate of 55.6 in 1995 compared to 65.5 in 2004.
“With over one-third of Kentuckians with diabetes not getting the recommended dilated eye exam, there is much room for improvement,” said Janice Haile, of the Kentucky Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. “It is very important for Kentucky practitioners and diabetes educators to take steps to ensure that people with diabetes understand the importance of getting this critical exam.”
The Kentucky Diabetes Network (KDN) Health Plan Partners recently developed a diabetes and eye disease brochure that includes a form to assist the medical provider in obtaining reports of dilated eye exams from the eye doctor. To obtain free copies of this brochure, contact Lonna Fraine of the Kentucky Diabetes Prevention and Control Program at (502) 564-7996 or e-mail email@example.com. The brochure can be downloaded at www.kentuckydiabetes.net where viewers should click Protect Your Vision.
More information is available from: the American Diabetes Association, (800) DIABETES; the American Academy of Ophthalmology's Eye Care America, (800) 628-6733; and the American Optometric Association's Diabetes Referral Line, (800) 262-3947.