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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Eye Exams Emphasized for Seniors with Diabetes to Avoid Common Vision Loss

National Diabetes Month emphasized by National Eye Institute to highlight a leading cause of vision loss in U.S.

Nov. 1, 2013 - If you are one of more than 11 million seniors with diabetes, you probably already know the importance of watching your diet and keeping track of your blood sugar. But did you know it’s also important to have regular eye exams? In the United States, diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of vision loss among working-age adults.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of this disease, and affects about 28.5 percent of Americans with diabetes age 40 and older. That’s more than 7 million people, and the number is expected to reach more than 11 million by the year 2030.

The condition can creep up quietly. It gradually weakens small blood vessels in and around the retina, the light-sensing layer of tissue at the back of the eye. If the disease progresses, these vessels may rupture and leak blood into the eye; they can also spread and grow on the surface of the retina and cause scarring.

Typically, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. But the disease can be detected early through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. In this procedure, an eye professional will put drops in your eye to dilate (widen) the pupil, which allows a closer look at the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy damages the tiny blood vessels inside your retina. A healthy retina - the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye - is necessary to see clearly. The symptoms that develop slowlyg, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, are the following:

  •    • Blurry or double vision

  •    • Rings, flashing lights, or blank spots

  •    • Dark or floating spots

  •    • Pain or pressure in one or both of your eyes

  •    • Trouble seeing things out of the corners of your eyes

Treatment often includes laser treatment or surgery, with follow-up care.

Two other eye problems can happen to people with diabetes. A cataract is a cloud over the lens of your eye. Surgery helps you see clearly again. Glaucoma happens when pressure builds up in the eye, damaging the main nerve. Eye drops or surgery can help.

If you have diabetes, you should have a complete eye exam every year. Finding and treating problems early may save your vision.

 

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The good news is that with early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be reduced by 95 percent. There are several effective treatment options including laser surgery and injections of anti-VEGF drugs. These drugs block the actions of a protein that can cause abnormal blood vessels to grow and leak fluid.

November is National Diabetes Month. If you have diabetes, it’s a good time to remember these health tips:

   • Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

   • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. By controlling your diabetes, you’ll reduce your risk of diabetic eye disease.

   • Talk to your eye care professional about diabetic retinopathy.

   • Learn more about diabetic eye disease from the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

   • Learn more about preventing and managing diabetes from the National Diabetes Education Program.

NEI’s Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network (DRCR.net) conducts large multi-center trials of new therapies for diabetic eye disease; it comprises nearly 1000 investigators at sites in 48 states. Many of the sites are private practice eye clinics, enabling the network to quickly bring innovative treatments from research into community practice. An ongoing trial is comparing three anti-VEGF drugs for macular edema, a complication of diabetic retinopathy that causes central vision loss. For more information, please see trial NCT01627249 at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov.

The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, leads the federal government's research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs that result in the development of sight-saving treatments. For more information, visit http://www.nei.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

About Diabetes at MedlinePlus

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood.

Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious problems. It can damage your eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease, stroke and even the need to remove a limb. Pregnant women can also get diabetes, called gestational diabetes.

A blood test can show if you have diabetes. Exercise, weight control and sticking to your meal plan can help control your diabetes. You should also monitor your glucose level and take medicine if prescribed.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

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