What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetes can cause damage to several different parts of the eye: the cornea, the lens, the nerves responsible for controlling eye muscles, the optic nerve and the retina. When thinking about the 'eye complications' of diabetes, most people, including most health care professionals, think of diabetic retinopathy, the process through which the eye's light sensitive retina is damaged by chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Indeed, diabetic retinopathy is arguably the most important example of diabetic eye disease, as it accounts for 12,000 to 24,000 cases of legal blindness each year in the United States, and more than 200,000 cases annually Worldwide. However, diabetic retinopathy, which has several different forms and stages, is itself only one of several completely distinct types of 'diabetic eye disease.'

Important Facts

  • 1.3 million new cases per year in the U.S.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness for persons under age 74 in the U.S.
  • Diabetes causes at least seven different kinds of eye disease
  • Most cases of blindness from diabetes are preventable with control of blood sugar, blood pressure, blood lipids and regular eye care from a knowledgeable eye doctor
  • Most diabetes complications occur in Type 2 diabetics
  • Patient education is the single most important tool to prevent all diabetes complications
  • In fact, there are seven different diabetic eye diseases: diabetic cataract; glaucoma; diabetic keratopathy; diabetic optic neuropathy; diabetic cranial neuropathy; diabetic retinopathy; and retinal vascular occlusion. Each affects a different part of the eye, from the nerves that control eye movement to the nerve that connects the eye to the brain, from the front surface of the eye to its innermost internal layers.

    The key to preventing and minimizing diabetic eye disease is patient education. The more you know about diabetes and its complications, the better able you will be to lower your risk and live a productive life even in spite of complications.

    Patients live with diabetes, and must control it through their own actions, every minute of every day. It makes absolute sense that patients be empowered to take control of their diabetes through medical education, understanding and encouragement. And so I have written this book in hope that my experiences, both as a long time diabetic and an eye doctor passionately interested in diabetes, may help you or someone you love to positively transform the way you manage diabetes.

    Did You Know?

    • Diabetic retinopathy blinds between 12,000 to 24,000 Americans each year.
    • Diabetics are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop glaucoma, a potentially blinding eye disease.
    • Diabetics tend to develop cataracts at an earlier age.
    • Diabetic retinopathy usually causes no symptoms at its earliest, most treatable stages.
    • Lowering your HbA1c levels by 10% (e.g. from 8% to 7.2%) reduces you risk of worsening retinopathy by 43%.
    • Tight blood pressure control is crucial in lowering the risk of diabetic eye disease.
    • 90% of all blindness due to diabetes is preventable with regular, dilated eye exams.
    • Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause wide fluctuations in a person's eyeglass prescription.

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