The Great American Epidemic

By Stephen Cohen, O.D. —

Although life expectancy is at an all-time high, the current diabetes epidemic is getting much worse, increasing by 27 percent in just the past 10 years. Seventeen million people are diabetic, and about one-third (almost six million) do not know it. Diabetics are at risk for heart disease, kidney disease, loss of a limb and blindness. November has been labeled “Diabetes Awareness Month.”

Every year, as many as 24,000 people go blind as a result of eye damage (diabetic retinopathy) brought on by diabetes. It is estimated that 95 percent of vision loss can be prevented through early detection and treatment. Diabetic retinopathy typically shows no early warning signs. Without timely treatment, there can be fluctuations of vision and changes in your eye prescription, as well as increased chances of developing glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eyes and/or cataracts. Almost 30 percent of diabetics haven’t had an eye exam within the past year, but prevention starts with early detection through a comprehensive eye exam. New technology can potentially pick up changes five to 10 years sooner than they become obvious. Only your eye doctor can fully evaluate your eyes and detect the early signs of retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.

There are several things you can do to decrease the chance of developing diabetic eye disease. A stable A1C level and blood pressure control can reduce the damage to blood vessels in the eye, thereby reducing damage to sensitive ocular structures. As a matter of fact, a stable but mildly higher average A1C level is potentially less damaging that a lower average A1C that fluctuates significantly when it comes to damage to the eyes. Besides the fact that some of the most frightening aspects of diabetes is the potential loss of vision that can be associated, it is also through the eyes that diabetes can be monitored and sometimes identified to begin with. A healthy diet and exercise program are obvious, but underutilized defenses, such as an annual eye exam, needs to be near the top of the list. Remember that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In this case, “an ounce of prevention is worth a lifetime of vision.”

Photo by Nithi clicks on Trend Hype / CC BY

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