Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and the numbers are growing steadily. It is expected to affect 1 in 10 diabetics worldwide by the year 2040. It is a common complication of diabetes, yet 79% of Americans have no idea that diabetic eye disease may not have symptoms and more than 50% do not know that eye exams can detect diabetes.
In 2014, 240,000 patients had diabetes-related manifestations in the eye and are not aware that they have diabetes. Eye exams can lead to a prompt diagnosis and care, minimizing the complications of the disease. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that regular dilated eye exams are performed for people with diabetes and those who are at risk of diabetes.
A survey conducted by the AOA also found that diabetics take better care of their eyes than the average American by having it checked (bravo you!). However, only 54% of diabetics regularly visit their doctor to have their eyes checked due to diabetes.
Type 1 diabetics should have their eyes examined at least 5 years after the initial diagnosis of diabetes. For type 2 diabetics, they should have an eye examination done as soon as the diagnosis is made.
Diabetics, in general, are recommended to undergo an eye exam at least annually as diabetic retinopathy can progress rapidly and lead to blindness. Women who have diabetes and of child-bearing age should also be educated that there is a risk of developing or increasing the progression of retinopathy. Eye examinations should be performed in the first 3 months of pregnancy, with follow-up examinations continuing throughout pregnancy and one year after delivery of the baby.
Referral to an ophthalmologist should be done when vision drops below 6/12. Talk to your doctor if you are having symptoms or due for an eye examination. It is a step that could save your vision.
Diabetes patients often skip eye exams: survey. The Philadelphia Sunday. Feb 2017.
ADA releases updated recommendations on standards of medical care in diabetes. American Family Physician. 2010; 82(2):206-208.