National Eye Institute
Neyal J. Ammary-Risch, director of the National Eye Health Education Program

If You Have Diabetes, Watch Your Eyes!

Neyal J. Ammary-Risch
11/21/13

Your family history is an important legacy for future generations, especially your family’s health history. Good health, including eye health, allows you to watch your family and community grow and do the activities you enjoy, such as watching your children play, picking fruits and vegetables in your garden, or cheering on family members as they graduate from school. For people with diabetes, staying healthy is especially important.

American Indians and Alaska Natives are at higher risk for diabetes, as well as the complications for the disease. One of those complications is diabetic eye disease, a group of eye problems that can cause vision loss or blindness if left untreated. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form and is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 20 to 74. According to the National Eye Institute, 7.7 million people ages 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy and this number will likely reach 11 million by 2030.

“Diabetic eye disease often has no warning signs, but can be detected early and treated before noticeable vision loss occurs,” said Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Eye Institute. “Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”

The most important thing people with diabetes can do is to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. In this procedure, an eye care professional places drops in the eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil to allow more light to enter the back of the eyes so he or she can look for signs of eye disease.

In order to stay healthy, you have to take care of yourself and your eyes. There are many things people with diabetes can do to take care of both, such as reaching and staying at a healthy weight; being physically active; not smoking; and keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol under control. Following these tips can help you maintain wellness and provide balance to life. Community exercise groups are great for supporting people with diabetes to achieve all of these goals. If you don’t have one in your community, start one! You’ll be helping to build stronger community ties, and encouraging others to get and stay healthy.

For more information on diabetic eye disease and tips on finding an eye care professional or financial assistance for eye care, visit www.nei.nih.gov/diabetes or call the National Eye Institute at 301–496–5248.

Maintaining good health also helps to maintain healthy vision. If you have diabetes, get a dilated eye exam. You can leave a legacy of healthy vision for your family and your community.

Neyal J. Ammary-Risch, M.P.H., MCHES, is the director of the National Eye Health Education Program. She manages the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of national health education programs on diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, low vision, vision and aging, and community and special population outreach. She also serves as the health literacy coordinator for the National Eye Institute, of the National Institutes of Health.

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