November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and the Kentucky Optometric Association (KOA) urges Kentuckians living with diabetes and diabetic eye disease to schedule dilated, comprehensive eye exams on a yearly basis.
Not only do eye exams help monitor diabetes, they can actually help detect it, and early detection can help prevent complications, such as kidney and heart disease. This is especially important in Kentucky, which ranks in the top 10 nationally for percentage of population with diabetes.
“During a dilated exam, an optometrist will look at your retina for early signs of diabetic eye disease, such as leaking blood vessels, swelling and deposits on the retina,” said Dr. Brett Abney, an optometrist in Leitchfield and president of the Kentucky Optometric Association. “Optometrists often serve as the first line of detection for diabetes, since the eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through the skin.”
Studies show that diabetes is responsible for 8 percent of legal blindness, making it the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74. Each year, 12,000 and 24,000 people lose their sight because of diabetes.
By the year 2020, the number of people suffering from diabetic eye disease is expected to nearly double. However, monitoring and maintaining control of diabetes through regular visits to the doctor along with adherence to the doctor’s instructions can lower one’s risk of developing diabetic eye disease by as much as 76 percent, according to the American Optometric Association.
“The key to successful eye care is to monitor the disease, including vision, which is why it is especially important that people with diabetes have a dilated eye examination annually,” Abney said. “Changes in vision may not be noticed, so early detection is critical in maintaining healthy vision.”