Diabetes affects almost 10% of the entire US population and the rate of diabetes among Americans is increasing dramatically. Despite its prevalence, many don’t realize the serious impact diabetes has on the eyes or that an eye exam can be the first clue to detecting the disease.

While most people with diabetes have only minor eye disorders, the disease can lead to a myriad of conditions that can lead to blindness including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma.

  • Diabetic retinopathy– When the sugar levels in the blood are high due to diabetes, it is very stressful on blood vessels all over the body including the eye which can cause them to start to leak, bleed, and swell the retina thereby affecting vision. This is called Diabetic Retinopathy, and it is a leading cause of blindness in the US. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), 7.7 million Americans suffer from this disease, up 3.7 million just in the past decade.
  • Cataracts– People with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop cataracts and many develop this eye condition at a younger age with a faster progression than those without diabetes. While many have cataract surgery to remove the damaged lens, this procedure can worsen retinopathy in those with diabetes.
  • Glaucoma– Diabetes can increase the pressure inside the eye which in turn damages the nerves inside it. This disorder is called glaucoma. People with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop this eye condition, and the longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is.

The link between the eyes and diabetes is so close that eye doctors are often the first to see signs of diabetes during routine eye exams. Since one-fourth of people with diabetes don’t even know they have it and early detection can give patients a better chance at preventing damage through early treatment and management, it’s important for everyone to keep routine eye exams regardless of age or physical health.

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