Diabetics who do not look to their long-term health may find themselves walking blind -; diabetes can cause a cluster of degenerative eye problems.
Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is a leading cause of blindness in the United States.
In diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels in the eye become blocked, encouraging new blood vessels to grown in abnormal areas, including the retina, or the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. These new blood vessels are delicate and prone to swelling and breaking. When they rupture or leak blood, they cause severe vision loss or blindness.
Floating spots, blurred vision, dark streaks, poor night vision and vision loss can all herald diabetic retinopathy, but the disease often develops without symptoms. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics can develop diabetic retinopathy.
The longer a person lives with diabetes, the greater the risk. Approximately two percent of all people who have diabetes for 15 years go blind, while another 10 percent suffer severe vision loss. About 74 percent of the people who have diabetes for 10 years or more will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy.
Early detection and timely treatment prove key -; even diabetics with retinopathy can reduce their chances of blindness by 95 percent if they receive proper care. But once damage occurs, it is usually permanent.
The World Health Organization estimates that 246 million people have diabetes worldwide. The organization expects that number to reach 380 million by 2025. Small lifestyle changes can help diabetics reduce their risk of developing diabetic eye disease. Diabetics and people at risk for diabetes should schedule annual eye exams.
Organizations such as Lions Clubs International support local and large-scale efforts to control diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.