Diabetes and blindness

March 24, 2010 3:20:58 PM PDT
Diabetes is the number one cause of new blindness in adults. Yearly eye exams are crucial for diabetics. And both type 1 and type 2 diabetics are at risk.

If your vision begins to blur, you may be like 55-year-old Narine Lalla. He has diabetes and had blurred vision a couple of years ago. He now relies on his wife's vision a lot. He knew he should should have been getting yearly eye exams.

His doctor at Lighthouse International were concerned. Lalla is now getting his yearly eye exam, where doctors use drops to widen the central pupil of the eye so they can see the retina, the nerve cells and blood vessels at the back of the eye. His vision is already badly affected, but it could be worse.

"Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness between the ages of 20 and 74," optometrist Dr. Andrea Zimmerman said.

And no wonder, as the disease can strike many parts of the eye.

"You get cataracts at an earlier age, you're more susceptible to glaucoma," said Dr. Lawrence Yannuzzi, of VRM Consultants of New York. "But the principle problem is in the retina."

With diabetes, there can be overgrown blood vessels in the retina.

"The blood vessels are swarming over the back of the eye," Dr. Yannuzzi said. "They leak, they bleed, they scar and that leads to blindness."

There's a misconception among patients. Some people with diabetes think that if they keep their sugar levels under control, they're not at risk for eye disease. That is not true.

They're at lower risk, but still a target for eye problems. Diabetics should have a yearly eye exam.

"If changes are noted at the back of the eye, they need to be followed more often," Dr. Zimmerman said.

Lighthouse International helps low vision people function independently. The Diabetes Association says that if you've had the illness for at least five years, and you are in your teens or 20s, have a yearly eye checkup. Do the same if you're over 30, no matter how long you've had diabetes.

For more on Lighthouse International, visit Lighthouse.org or call 800-829-0500.

For more on the Vitreous Retina Macula Consultants of New York, visit VRMNY.com or call 212-861-9797.