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Early Detection and Managing Disease Key to Healthy Eyes

If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, make sure to include regular comprehensive eye exams to your health care regimen of watching your diet and monitoring your blood sugar.

Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of vision loss among working-age adults in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common form, affects nearly 29 percent of Americans with diabetes age 40 and older, according to the National Eye Institute.The number of people with diabetic retinopathy is expected to grow from 7 million to 11 million by 2030.

"Vision loss from diabetic retinopathy carries very severe physical, psychological, social and economic consequences on individuals and their communities worldwide," says retina specialist Andreas Lauer, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Casey Eye Institute. Although there have been inroads in research and treatment, the prevalence and impact of diabetic retinopathy is expected to grow as nations become more industrialized and life expectancy increases. "Diabetic retinopathy is poised to be an overwhelming global public health problem," he says.diabeticeye

Diabetic retinopathy can creep up quietly. It gradually weakens small blood vessels in and around the retina, the light-sensing layer of tissue at the back of the eye. If the disease progresses, these vessels may rupture and leak blood into the eye; they can also spread and grow on the surface of the retina and cause scarring.

Typically, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. But the disease can be detected early through a comprehensive dilated eye exam, which allows a closer look at the retina.

The good news is that with early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be reduced by 95 percent. There are several effective treatment options including laser surgery and injections of anti-angiogenic medications. These drugs block the actions of a protein that can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow and leak fluid.

Casey Researchers Focus on Diabetic Retinopathy 

The retina physicians and scientists at Casey are involved in a number of promising investigations to develop more effective therapies, better understand the disease and its genetic influences, and test new imaging technology. The researchers also are evaluating whether patients take better care of their diabetes when they receive diabetes education and blood glucose tests during eye exams of the retina. Many of these clinical trials are being conducted through the NEI's Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, a collaboration of more than 300 physicians at clinical sites like Casey across the United States.

If you have diabetes, remember these health tips:

  • Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.
  • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. By controlling your diabetes, you'll reduce your risk of diabetic eye disease.
  • Talk to your eye care professional about diabetic retinopathy.