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Diabetes Is the Leading Cause of Blindness Among Most Adults

The American Optometric Association reminds patients about the importance of comprehensive eye exams during November’s National Diabetes Month

A recent survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA), the American Eye-Q™, revealed that while more than 60 percent of adults know that diabetes is detectable through a comprehensive eye exam, only 38 percent of adults who do not wear glasses or contacts have been to an eye doctor in the last two years.

Almost 21 million people in the United States have diabetes and over six million of those are undiagnosed. Additionally, an estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the number one cause of acquired blindness.

Individuals who are at high risk for diabetes need to have regular, dilated eye exams and all individuals with known diabetes need to have dilated eye exams each year, according to Robert Layman, O.D. and Chair of the AOA’s Diabetes Eye Care Project Team. “Individuals should consider an eye exam the first line of detection for this serious disease and its complications,” said Dr. Layman. “Fortunately, in nearly all cases, diabetic retinopathy, a potentially blinding complication of diabetes and sometimes the very first sign of diabetes, can be diagnosed during a dilated eye exam in which drops are put into the eyes.”

Dr. Layman adds that on many occasions, other health-threatening conditions may be discovered during an eye exam.  “We can uncover unique signs that may even save someone’s life. The effects of high blood pressure, anemia and elevated blood cholesterol can be seen during a dilated eye exam because the eye is the only place within the body that blood vessels can be seen in their natural state. For this very reason, Leonardo DaVinci often referred to the eye as the “window to the body.”

According to Michael Duenas, O.D. and health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Diabetes Translation, “patients suffering from diabetic retinopathy may not notice any changes in their vision, especially during the early treatable stages of the disease, this fact emphasizes the importance of all individuals with diabetes having yearly dilated eye examinations by an optometrist or ophthalmologist”.

“Affordability, continuity, and regular sources of care, as well as physician advice remain core factors significantly associated with receiving this needed care” said Dr. Duenas. “There is an obvious disconnect between adults’ knowledge and their actions when it comes to comprehensive eye exams,” said Dr. Layman. He adds, “This is very unfortunate considering that 12,000 to 24,000 people unnecessarily lose their vision yearly because of diabetes complications that can often be prevented through early detection and timely treatment.”

Key facts about diabetes:

  • More than 21 million people in the United States have diabetes.
  • 6.2 million people with diabetes are unaware they have the disease.
  • An estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 (40.1 percent of the U.S. population in this age group) have prediabetes a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.
  • People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma.
  • People with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts.

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