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‘Watch’ out for diabetes, it could cause eye problems

For most Americans, a trip to the local eye doctor is only scheduled when day-to-day reading becomes a burden, but studies have shown that yearly eye exams can serve as an invaluable tool for the early detection of diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association there are 23.6 million people in the United States, or 8 percent of the population, who have diabetes. The total prevalence of diabetes increased 13.5 percent from 2005-2007. Only 24 percent of diabetes is undiagnosed, down from 30 percent in 2005 and from 50 percent 10 years ago.

Dr. Bill Tillman of Tillman Family Eye Care in Andalusia said he has seen the importance of a yearly eye exam first hand.

“We have proved early detection of diabetes for a number of patients,” he said. “Most often patients come into the office because their vision has become blurry, but they are not aware their blood sugar is out of whack. Family doctors throughout Covington County have done an excellent job of stressing to their patients, especially those with a high risk of diabetes, the importance of an annual eye exam.”

A recent survey by the American Optometry Association (AOA) revealed that Americans aren’t taking their eye health as seriously as they should, particularly when it comes to protecting their eyes from the potentially blinding effects of diabetes and diabetic eye disease.

According to the AOA’s 2007 American Eye-Q survey, more than 60 percent of adults know that diabetes is detectable through a comprehensive eye exam. However, only 32 percent of adults who do not wear glasses or contacts have seen a doctor of optometry in the past two years. The annual American Eye-Q survey identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and related issues.

“More than 21 million Americans have diabetes, and perhaps of even greater concern, more than six million Americans are unaware that they have the disease,” Tillman said. “In addition to overall health complications, diabetes can cause vision changes and ultimately lead to blindness.”

Optometrists can serve as the first line of detection for diabetes, since the eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through the skin. All individuals with known diabetes need to have dilated eye exams each year; despite the fact that only four out of 10 Americans recognize that diabetic patients should have their vision checked annually, according to the 2007 American Eye-Q survey.

“It is especially important for individuals who are at high risk for diabetes to visit an eye doctor regularly for dilated eye exams,” Tillman said.

According to the American Diabetes Association an estimated 54 million or 40.1 percent Americans, age 40 to 74, have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Early detection is critical in maintaining healthy vision. Additionally, several factors influence whether someone with diabetes develops diabetic retinopathy. These include controlled blood sugar, controlling blood pressure levels, the length of time with diabetes and race and family history.

The following symptoms should be followed with a trip to the optometrist:

Blurry vision.

Trouble reading signs or books.

Double vision.

Pressure felt in the eyes.

Straight lines appearing indistinct.

Side or peripheral vision becomes limited.

For more information about diabetes, including warning signs and early detection of diabetes and pre-diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org.