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Although many people living with diabetes understand that the disease can lead to blindness, roughly 20 percent had not received a dilated eye exam as recommended every 12 months, a recent survey shows.

“It’s critical for diabetics to have an annual dilated exam because it can help them avoid complications,” said Dr. Paul M. Griffey, a third-generation ophthalmologist at Griffey Eye Care and Laser Center.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the American Diabetes Association, also suggests that some diabetics are not aware that an annual dilated exam is recommended.

People who have diabetes are nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults, according to the National Eye Institute. Glaucoma is when fluid pressure builds in the eye and damages the optic nerve. Additionally, diabetics are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness among diabetics. The disease occurs by changes in the blood vessels of the retina.

There are four stages of retinopathy: mild, moderate and severe nonproliferative retinopathy and proliferative retinopathy, which is the most advanced stage. With proliferative retinopathy, abnormal blood vessels develop and leak blood into the center of the eye causing blurry vision.

Macular edema can also cause vision loss at any stage of diabetic retinopathy. Fluid leaks into the center of the macula making it swell and blur vision.

“Treatment for retinopathy usually works best when a person’s sight is still normal,” said Dr. Griffey, who has practiced ophthalmology for 14 years. “It’s very common for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to develop nonproliferative retinopathy, but most people have no symptoms. That’s why annual dilated eye exams are so important.”

Fortunately, patients can reduce their risk of retinopathy by keeping their blood sugar levels as close to normal as they can. And those who have proliferative retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent with prompt treatment and follow-up care, according to the National Eye Institute.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that patients with diabetes take the following steps to protect their eye health:

  • Keep your blood sugar levels under control. Research has shown that patients can reduce their risk of retinopathy by keeping their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. High blood sugar levels can also temporarily make your vision blurry.
  • Keep your blood pressure under control. Eye problems can become more serious when your blood pressure is continually high.
  • Quit smoking.
  • See your optometrist or ophthalmologist for a dilated eye exam at least once a year. Vision exams conducted by a primary care physician or nurse practitioner will not detect the signs of retinopathy.
  • Make an appointment with your eye doctor if you develop symptoms such as: blurry vision, seeing double, having trouble reading signs, eye pain, red eyes, seeing spots or floaters or experiencing other abnormal changes to your eyesight.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, National Eye Institute

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