November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, and Affinity Health encourages people with diabetes to take steps to protect their vision.
Did you know that diabetic eye disease is a leading cause of blindness worldwide and often presents with no early warning signs? Tragically, without timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care, diabetic eye disease can quickly result in vision loss and blindness.
“An estimated 3.5 million South Africans suffer from diabetes, and 5 million more are believed to have pre-diabetes – when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered as diabetes,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.
“Having diabetes increases the risk of vision loss and blindness from diabetic eye diseases such as cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens), glaucoma (elevated pressure inside the eye), and macular swelling (optic nerve damage).”
People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as people who do not have diabetes. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop retinopathy – the leading cause of new cases of blindness and low vision in adults aged 20 to 65. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is damage to the small blood vessels that nourish tissue and nerve cells in the retina.
The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their risk of developing diabetic eye diseases. But the good news is that early detection and treatment can lower the risk of blindness by 95%. Managing diabetes – with diet, exercise, and medication – also goes a long way to keeping your vision healthy.
“Diabetes Eye Disease Month is the perfect time to get hands-on about your health. If you suspect you may have diabetes or you have worrying eye disease symptoms, speak to your doctor who can recommend the right tests and treatments available,” says Hewlett.
“There are several tests that can easily diagnose diabetes, the most common being a blood sugar test. There are also certain factors during an eye exam that may indicate diabetes if you have not been formally diagnosed.”
To help you keep your vision healthy, people with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. This exam generally lasts no more than an hour and is performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
During the exam, your doctor will insert drops in your eyes to make the pupils larger. This allows the doctor to fully see the back of each eye, including the retina, blood vessels, and optic nerve. The doctor will determine if the visual problems you are experiencing are normal age-related changes or are disease-related, and if additional testing, referral to another doctor or specialist, or treatments are needed.
People with types 1 and 2 diabetes need annual eye exams, while pregnant women with both types 1 and 2 require at least one eye exam during the first trimester.
“Protecting your eyesight is one of the most important things you can do. Instead of taking our vision for granted, we should give our eyes the best possible chance of lasting a lifetime,” concludes Hewlett.