November is Diabetic Eye Disease Month. Diabetic eye disease is one of the major causes of vision loss in adults. When the sugar levels in the blood are high, it is very stressful on the blood vessels all over the body, putting individuals at high risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. In the eye, blood vessels can start to leak or bleed in reaction to high blood sugar. This swelling in the retina can decrease vision, so it’s best detected and treated early.

The retinal hemorrhaging associated with diabetes has no symptoms at first, but once vision is affected it becomes much harder to treat. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of legal blindness in the US for people under age 65. It is the second leading cause of legal blindness in the country for people over age 65.

How is diabetic eye disease treated? First by controlling blood sugar. An eye exam may consist of your eye doctor taking some pictures of the retina at the back of the eye to locate areas of swelling. If you have diabetic eye disease, injections of medication into the eye or laser treatments, or both, may be required to stop or slow down the abnormal blood vessels. Unlike cataracts, you can’t replace your retina when it’s not working and unlike glaucoma, you can’t take eye drops to control it.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends seeing your eye doctor when you receive a new diagnosis of diabetes, and at least every year after that. More frequent visits to the eye doctor may be required if there is some diabetic eye disease. With good blood sugar control and appropriate eye exams people with diabetes can keep their eyes healthy and seeing well.

Here are some key facts about diabetes:

  • More than 21 million people in the United States have diabetes.
  • 6.2 million people with diabetes are unaware they have diabetes.
  • An estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 (40.1% of the US population in this age group) have prediabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developed Type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.
  • People with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop glaucoma.
  • People with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts.