Diabetes in the U.S.
The incidence of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. has risen drastically in the past 30 years with the increase in obesity and decline in physical activity and healthful eating. According to the International Diabetic Federation, approximately 30 million Americans ages 20-79 have diabetes—the highest incidence among 38 developed nations. Ninety percent of these have type 2 diabetes, the result of the body not being able to use or store dietary sugar properly. According to the American Diabetic Association, high glucose levels in the bloodstream can lead to damage of the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Eye disease related to diabetes includes diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME), cataracts and glaucoma, all of which can potentially result to severe vision loss and blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy: This disease affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.
Diabetic Macular Edema (DME): A consequence of diabetic retinopathy, DME is swelling in the area of the retina called the macula.
Cataract: A clouding of the lenses in our eyes. Cataracts are 2-5 times more likely to develop in people with diabetes and will develop at an earlier age.
Glaucoma: This is a group of diseases that damage the eyes’ optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the eye to the brain. Some types of glaucoma are associated with elevated pressure inside the eye. In adults, diabetes doubles the risk of glaucoma. Someone with glaucoma may not notice any symptoms until significant vision loss has occurred – another reason to have annual comprehensive eye exams.
Incidence and Treatment
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 12,000 and 24,000 new cases of blindness from diabetic retinopathy occur annually in the U.S. Up to 95% could be prevented with early detection and by taking medicines as prescribed, staying physically active and maintaining a healthy diet.
Because diabetic retinopathy often goes unnoticed until vision loss occurs, the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health urges people with diabetes to get an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
The good news about diabetes: the sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the less long-term effects it may have. If you are concerned about your own vision or that of a family member, find an eye doctor here. According to the American Optometric Association, in 2014 alone, over 240,000 cases of diabetes were first detected during an eye exam.