Diabetes affects nearly 26 million people in the United States. In addition, another 79 million people are estimated to have prediabetes, a condition that puts people at increased risk for diabetes. Many American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) are included in these statistics. According to the Indian Health Service, diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives has increased from 8 percent to more than 13 percent in the last decade. While this may sound discouraging, the good news is that a lot can be done to prevent diabetes and the severity of its complications, such as those that lead to vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems people with diabetes may face and includes cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20–74 years of age.
“The longer a person has diabetes, the greater is his or her risk of developing diabetic eye disease,” said Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Eye Institute (NEI). “If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam, because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”
Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but it can be detected early and treated before vision loss occurs. If you have diabetes in your family, you can leave a legacy of healthy vision by taking steps to prevent vision loss—controlling diabetes and getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year.
“In fact, with early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of severe vision loss by 95 percent,” adds Suber Huang, M.D., M.B.A., chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program.
Research has shown that when people with diabetes maintain good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, they can slow the development and progression of diabetic eye disease. In addition to having a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year, people with diabetes should do the following to keep their health on TRACK:
- 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.
If you have diabetes, set your sight on healthy vision. Schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam. 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 or call the NEI at 301–496–5248.
The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, leads the federal government’s research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs that result in the development of sight-saving treatments. For more information, visit www.nei.nih.gov. The nation’s medical research agency includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.