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Eye Care Glossary

Diabetic Eye Disease

Compared with the general population, people with diabetes are 25-30 times more likely to lose their sight from retinopathy, cataracts or glaucoma. There may not be any symptoms in the early stages of the disease in every instance. That's why it's essential you know as much as you can about your eyesight. Armed with information, you can effectively reduce your chances of blindness.

Blurry vision may be an indication that you are suffering from diabetes. It's important that you see your eye doctor as soon as possible for a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilating the pupils. This procedure allows the eye doctor to check your eye's blood vessels for unusual changes. If your eye doctor notices changes caused by diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma, your eye doctor can recommend treatments to save your sight.

The longer you have diabetes, the greater the chances you will develop diabetic eye disease. That's why PREVENT BLINDNESS AMERICA recommends that people with insulin-dependent diabetes should be examined annually for diabetic retinopathy beginning five years after the onset of diabetes (but generally not be done before puberty). People with non insulin-dependent diabetes should see their eye doctor soon after being diagnosed as having diabetes. Often-times, these people have had diabetes for a long time and never knew it.

High blood pressure and poor control of blood sugar levels can increase your risk of blindness. Both are associated with the development and progression of diabetic retinopathy or cataracts. Research is being done to find out if good control of blood sugar levels or high blood pressure will prevent or stop the progression of diabetic eye disease. It's always vital that you keep your diabetes in good control and follow your doctor's advice in treating your high blood pressure.

Race and family history seem to have a lot to do with who will get diabetes. People who are of Hispanic, African American, and Native-American descent are more likely to develop diabetes. African-Americans are also five times more likely to develop glaucoma. Talk to family members and find out who in your family has diabetes and suffers from diabetic eye disease. At your next doctor's appointment, share your family's medical eye history.

Some studies have shown that people who exercise may prevent non insulin-dependent diabetes. It's important that you talk to your doctor first if you plan to start ail exercise program. Pregnant women with diabetes should see their eye doctor during their pregnancy. While scientists are still unsure why, pregnancy seems to increase a woman's risk of developing, and even accelerating, diabetic retinopathy.

Investigators have found that this disease does not follow a predictable course. In some diabetics, it is the first sign of the disease, while in others it may not occur at all. Very recently, studies sponsored by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health showed that the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is -- preventing serious vision loss in 90 percent of those treated. The best protection against diabetic eye disease is to find and treat it early. For diabetics, an eye examination through dilated pupils by an eye care specialist should be conducted at least once a year.

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