Diabetes Awareness Month

cohen_headshotBy 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.  National programs are in place to increase public awareness about preventable diseases like diabetes, and 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, and/or cataracts.  Almost 30% of diabetics haven’t had an eye exam within the past year, but prevention starts with early detection through a comprehensive eye exam.  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.  Keeping blood sugar levels within the target range and without significant fluctuations throughout the day can reduce the damage to blood vessels in the eye, thereby reducing damage to sensitive ocular structures.  Studies have actually shown that a widely fluctuating A1C level (but lower overall average) can be more damaging to your eyes than a more stable but higher overall A1C level. Controlling blood pressure (which can further damage vessels) is also important.  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.”

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