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SOURCE: Dr. Jared Cooper- Advanced Low Vision Care
November is National Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. As the holidays approach it is the time to be cognoscente of our diets and eye health, particularly those who already suffer from diabetes. Diabetic related eye disease is a leading cause of blindness. Education and vigilance are the most important measures to eliminate this serious disease.
Salt Lake City, UT (PRWEB) November 18, 2012
In observation of National Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, eye doctors all over America want to remind those with diabetes to get a dilated eye exam each and every year, because they’ve found that more than one third of those who know they have diabetes fail to follow these established eye exam guidelines. And although November is quickly drawing to a close, the holiday season is rapidly approaching – this is a time for celebration that’s also an important time for diabetics everywhere to be acutely aware of their diets and blood sugar levels in order to avoid debilitating diseases, such as diabetic eye disease.
The nation is experiencing an epidemic in relation to the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes, however, there’s another health problem associated with diabetes that many people have never heard of called diabetic retinopathy. This issue is nothing to brush off – and there are numerous statistics to prove it. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a mind-spinning 89 percent jump in the amount of people with diabetic retinopathy. A whopping 7.7 million people ages 40 and older have this disease that affects the tiny blood vessels of the retina, which is located in the back part of the eye and contains special cells that respond to light. With close to 26 million Americans having diabetes, it is no surprise this devastating eye disease will continue to multiply in numbers.
A Special Caution
A special caution to get an eye exam in the first trimester goes out to pregnant women with diabetes, because diabetic eye disease progresses much quicker during pregnancy. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness, and because diabetes has few symptoms in the earliest stages, one third of people don’t even know they have the disease. Research shows that the longer a person has diabetes, the higher the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy becomes. In fact, for many people, the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy is one of the first indicators of diabetes.
How Diabetes Affects the Retina
Diabetic retinopathy normally affects both eyes. High blood sugar can weaken small blood vessels, making them swell and then leak blood and/or fluid into the retina, causing vision to blur and even leading to blindness in some people. In addition, fluctuations in sugar levels encourage new, fragile blood vessels to grow on the retina, which break and then leak blood into the vitreous, which is the clear, gel-like material that fills the center of the eye. This results in severe floaters, blurry vision and blindness. Additional factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking can exacerbate the condition further. What people really need to keep in mind is that even the smallest changes in vision can be a red flag that they should have their doctor check in order to get the best outcome possible.
The Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy
There are four basic stages of Diabetic Retinopathy, from the earliest and mildest stage to the most advanced stage that results in severe vision loss or blindness
1. Mild Nonproliferative Retinopathy – This is the earliest stage of the disease when microaneurysms, balloon-like swelling that occur in small spaces, develop in the tiny blood vessels of the retina.
2. Moderate Nonproliferative Retinopathy – In the second stage of the disease, blockage occurs in some of the blood vessels that work to nourish the retina, which reduces the blood supply to the retina itself.
3. Severe Nonproliferative Retinopathy – This third stage is where so much of the retina’s blood supply is blocked, that the body sends out a message for the creation of new vessels in order to compensate for the reduction in the blood supply.
4. Proliferative Retinopathy – In this advanced stage of the disease, the body produces new, fragile and abnormal blood vessels to answer the body’s need for an increased blood supply. Although the newly-formed abnormal vessels don’t present a problem, they are highly prone to leaking, which can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.
Eye Opening Numbers
Many people are surprised to learn that diabetic retinopathy is the leading reason for blindness in adults, with approximately 4.2 million U.S. adults being afflicted by the disease. Between 40 and 45 percent of diabetic adults are in some stage of diabetic retinopathy. It’s estimated that about 700,000 Americans have serious retinal disease and each year, 25,000 people go blind from diabetic retinopathy. And although eye doctors can effectively treat and stop the progression of diabetic retinopathy, most people don’t even know they have it, because the symptoms of central vision loss and distortion are so subtle in the early stages. Statistics show that if this frightening trend continues, about 13 million Americans will either be visually impaired or blind by 2050, an increase that also mirrors the rise in the aging U.S. population. Those dealing with diabetes are as much as 30 times more likely to lose their vision from retinopathy, cataracts or glaucoma, with estimates that approximately 700,000 people in the U.S. have chronic retinal disease.
The Good News
Although the statistics and research produce frightening numbers, it’s important to note that an eye professional can easily detect diabetic retinopathy during their exam. This is why doctors strongly recommend that anyone with diabetes or anyone with vision changes like severe floaters or blurry vision see an eye doctor for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Regular eye exams are important for everyone, because this disease, in its early stages when it’s the most treatable, may not cause clear symptoms, like blurred vision or spots in a person’s field of vision. The biggest weapons in the fight against diabetic retinopathy are patient awareness combined with regular eye exams. Those with diabetes can also reduce their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy by nearly 95 percent, simply by being timely with their treatments and staying vigilant in regulating their blood sugar.
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