You can’t feel it. You can’t see it—until it’s too late. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common form of diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults age 20 to 74. It occurs when diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy affects 7.7 million Americans, and that number is projected to increase to more than 14.6 million people by 2030. Many African Americans are included in these statistics. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 800,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and this number is projected to increase to approximately 1.2 million people by 2030.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for diabetic eye disease. Once vision is lost, it often cannot be restored.
People with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to help protect their sight.
Keeping diabetes in control is key to slowing the progression of vision complications like diabetic retinopathy. There are important steps people with diabetes can take to keep their health on TRACK:
- Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Add physical activity to your daily routine.
- Control your ABC’s—A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Kick the smoking habit.
Early detection, timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care can reduce a person’s risk for severe vision loss from diabetic eye disease by 95 percent.
“Only about half of all people with diabetes get an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam, which is essential for detecting diabetic eye disease early, when it is most treatable,” said Paul Sieving, M.D., director of NEI. “Newer and better treatments are available for the first time in decades, making early detection even more important.”
With no early symptoms, diabetic eye disease—a group of conditions including cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy—can affect anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. African Americans are at higher risk for losing vision or going blind from diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of African Americans have diagnosed diabetes.
“More than ever, it’s important for people with diabetes to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. New treatments are being developed all the time, and we are learning that different treatments may work best for different patients. What hasn’t changed is that early treatment is always better,” said Suber Huang, M.D., chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program and member of the NEI-funded Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network. “There has never been a more hopeful time in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy.”
Remember, if you have diabetes, make annual comprehensive dilated eye exams part of your self-management routine. Living with diabetes can be challenging, but you don’t have to lose your vision or go blind because of it.
For more information on diabetic eye disease, tips on finding an eye care professional or information on financial assistance, visit NEI or call (301) 496-5248.