No diabetes care routine is complete without an annual eye exam

(8.22.2017)
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PROVIDENCE, RI – More than 100,000 Rhode Islanders – nearly 12 percent of the adult population - have diabetes, and the number continues to climb at an epidemic rate. While most diabetes management often focuses on controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, an often overlooked, yet vital, component of a diabetes care routine is an annual, comprehensive eye exam. People with diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing eye damage, but early detection and treatment can lessen the severity and prevent vision loss.

“Many people with diabetes know they need to get their hemoglobin A1C in check, but it’s just as important to get an eye exam,” said Katherine Dallow, MD, vice president of clinical affairs and quality at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI). “While eyesight is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think about diabetes, it should be -- diabetes is the number one cause for new cases of blindness among American adults.”

The American Optometric Association has found that 12,000 to 24,000 people lose their vision every year because of diabetes complications such as diabetic retinopathy, which is a disease of the retina and is the most common eye complication for diabetics. The condition causes changes in the blood vessels of the retina, including leakage or the formation of new, abnormal blood vessels. Patients may not experience symptoms of diabetic retinopathy in the early stages of the disease; however, vision loss can occur quickly and without any warning.

While diabetic retinopathy is a common diabetic complication, it can also be prevented through early detection and timely treatment. This is why annual, comprehensive eye exams, ones that include dilation of the eyes, are so important. Dallow hopes raising awareness of the condition will empower patients to practice good self-management when it comes to diabetes care.

“Many people with diabetes simply don’t know that they should be getting a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilation every year by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. A vision test is not enough,” said Dallow. “Many don't have symptoms, so they don't think they need an eye health check. But, retinopathy can creep up on you and once you notice a problem, the damage has already been done.”

Diabetic retinopathy affects 4.4 million Americans over the age of 40, and causes more than 12,000 new cases of blindness every year. Those with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts. Close monitoring of diabetic retinopathy can reduce the likelihood of vision complications.

“Identifying the early signs of retinopathy and intervening with treatment can effectively reduce vision loss,” said Dallow. “The simple solution is to ask your doctor about an eye exam. With regular screening, treatment such as lifestyle changes or medication can help prevent vision loss.”

For more information and resources, please visit http://www.rhodeahead.com/diabetes and http://eyeondiabetes.eyemed.com/. To find an optometrist or ophthalmologist, BCBSRI members can use the Find a Doctor tool on bcbsri.com. You can also ask your primary care provider about receiving a comprehensive eye exam.

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