Five Things You Should Know About Diabetic Eye Disease

Each year in March, many people hear about Diabetes Alert Day, a one-day “wake-up call” to inform the American public about the seriousness of diabetes. On this day, many organizations encourage individuals to take the diabetes risk test and learn about their family history of diabetes. Five Things You Should Know About Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetes has become an epidemic in the United States. In the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosed cases of diabetes have increased more than 30 percent. If diabetes is not managed, it can lead to serious complications, including vision loss and blindness.
Everyone with diabetes is at higher risk of losing vision from diabetic eye disease, but less than 10 percent of older adults in the United States know that diabetic retinopathy often has no early warning signs. The good news is that 95 percent of severe vision loss can be prevented through early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up.

To help you keep your vision healthy, here are five things the National Eye Health Education Program, a program of the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health, would like you to know about diabetic eye disease:

  1. A group of eye problems—People with diabetes may face several eye problems as a complication of this disease. They include cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in American adults ages 20–74.
  1. No symptoms, no pain—In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms. A person may not notice vision changes until the disease advances. Blurred vision may occur when the macula swells from the leaking fluid (called macular edema). If new vessels have grown on the surface of the retina, they can bleed into the eye, blocking vision.
  1. Have diabetes? You are at risk—Anyone with diabetes is at risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get this eye disease. In fact, between 40 and 45 percent of those with diagnosed diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy. Detecting eye changes can also help diagnose kidney (nephropathy) and peripheral nerve disease (neuropathy).
  1. Stay on TRACK—That is: Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor; Reach and maintain a healthy weight; Add more physical activity to your daily routine; Control your ABC’s—A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels; and Kick the smoking habit.
  1. Get a dilated eye exam—If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Diabetic eye disease can be detected early and treated before noticeable vision loss occurs.

As an eye health professional, I encourage you to protect your vision, particularly if you have diabetes. This month, start the conversation at home, with your family and friends, or with your healthcare provider. Save what many take for granted: their sight.

To learn more about diabetic eye disease, visit

By: Suber S. Huang, M.D., M.B.A.
Chair, National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP) Planning Committee

Five Things You Should Know About Diabetic Eye Disease

Five Things You Should Know About Diabetic Eye Disease
Five Things You Should Know About Diabetic Eye Disease

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