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Diabetes is leading cause of blindness

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working age adults, but 90 percent of visual loss can be prevented. An annual dilated eye exam can help prevent vision loss in people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin in amounts sufficient to control blood sugar levels. People with diabetes can develop too much sugar in their blood, called hyperglycemia. Our serum glucose (sugar) is a vital source of energy for our body's cells, but too much of it causes damage throughout the body, including in the small blood vessels of the eyes.

If you have diabetes, you run the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, a condition in which damage occurs to the blood vessels of the retina inside the eye. You are also more at risk for cataract (clouding of the lens of the eye) and glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve).

Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy is the earliest stage. In this condition the retinal vessels leak fluid, small amounts of blood, and sometimes cholesterol or other fats into the retina.

Some diabetic eye disease may be reversible with improved blood sugar control. Some requires intervention by an ophthalmologist.

What can you do?

A healthy, well balanced diet and a lifestyle that includes regular exercise and promotes a healthy body weight is important if you have disease, and also, for many of us, to prevent disease.

Getting regular medical care is important, and our medical doctors are doing a terrific job helping patients with diabetes to get their blood sugars into a healthier range compared to twenty years ago. Regular exams with an ophthalmologist (eye M.D.) , at least once a year, is recommended for patients with diabetes, even those without symptoms because in the earliest stages of diabetic retinopathy, there usually aren't any.

Should you experience a change in your vision, see your ophthalmologist or other eye-care specialist.

Local eye ophthalmologists include Lisa Pippa Alexander, M.D., PLC, 388-3937, Circle Eye Care, 247-2727, and Eye Care Associates, 388-6565.

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