According to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, over 29 million Americans have diabetes. Of these 29 million, approximately 25% have some form of diabetic retinopathy, a disease caused by the deterioration of blood vessels that nourish the retina. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause serious vision issues, including blindness.
Preventing diabetic retinopathy starts with the basics of managing diabetes – by carefully controlling blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association found that people on standard diabetes treatment developed retinopathy four times as often as people who kept blood sugar levels close to normal. For those who already had diabetic retinopathy, the disease progressed half as often in the group that properly managed their levels.
Another preventative step that diabetics must take is to visit an eye doctor once every year for a comprehensive eye exam. Most patients don’t notice any change in vision during the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, so an eye doctor is the best defense in discovering the disease and quickly recommending treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing vision loss and with careful monitoring, treatment of diabetic retinopathy can begin before eyesight is affected.
Ophthalmologist Thomas Henderson, M.D. explains, “Clearly, the most important part of maintaining eyesight with diabetes is maintaining normal blood sugar–a hemoglobin A1c level less than 7.0. For every whole unit increase in the A1c, the lifetime risk of all diabetic complications increases by 40%. Speeding down the freeway at 110 miles an hour thinking you won’t have a wreck or end up in jail is just the same delusion as having a hemoglobin A1c of 11.0 thinking you won’t have kidney failure, lose a leg or go blind from diabetic complications.”
Other risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy include high blood pressure and smoking. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to get it under control because it can make eye problems worse. Just with many other health conditions, smoking can increase your risk for diabetic retinopathy, among other things. Those who smoke should quit immediately.