PROVIDENCE, RI (August 22, 2017) – More than 100,000 Rhode
Islanders – nearly 12 percent of the adult population - have diabetes, and the
number continues to climb at an epidemic rate. While most diabetes management
often focuses on controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, an often
overlooked, yet vital, component of a diabetes care routine is an annual,
comprehensive eye exam. People with diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing
eye damage, but early detection and treatment can lessen the severity and
prevent vision loss.
“Many people with diabetes know they need to get their
hemoglobin A1C in check, but it’s just as important to get an eye exam,” said
Katherine Dallow, MD, vice president of clinical affairs and quality at Blue
Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI). “While eyesight is not the
first thing that comes to mind when we think about diabetes, it should be --
diabetes is the number one cause for new cases of blindness among American
The American Optometric Association has found that 12,000 to
24,000 people lose their vision every year because of diabetes complications
such as diabetic retinopathy, which is a disease of the retina and is the most
common eye complication for diabetics. The condition causes changes in the
blood vessels of the retina, including leakage or the formation of new,
abnormal blood vessels. Patients may not experience symptoms of diabetic
retinopathy in the early stages of the disease; however, vision loss can occur
quickly and without any warning.
While diabetic retinopathy is a common diabetic
complication, it can also be prevented through early detection and timely
treatment. This is why annual, comprehensive eye exams, ones that include
dilation of the eyes, are so important. Dallow hopes raising awareness of the
condition will empower patients to practice good self-management when it comes
to diabetes care.
“Many people with diabetes simply don’t know that they
should be getting a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilation every year by
an optometrist or ophthalmologist. A vision test is not enough,” said Dallow.
“Many don't have symptoms, so they don't think they need an eye health check.
But, retinopathy can creep up on you and once you notice a problem, the damage
has already been done.”
Diabetic retinopathy affects 4.4 million Americans over the
age of 40, and causes more than 12,000 new cases of blindness every year. Those
with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma and 60 percent
more likely to develop cataracts. Close monitoring of diabetic retinopathy can
reduce the likelihood of vision complications.
“Identifying the early signs of retinopathy and intervening
with treatment can effectively reduce vision loss,” said Dallow. “The simple
solution is to ask your doctor about an eye exam. With regular screening,
treatment such as lifestyle changes or medication can help prevent vision
For more information and resources, please visit http://www.rhodeahead.com/diabetes
To find an optometrist or ophthalmologist, BCBSRI members can use the Find a
Doctor tool on bcbsri.com. You can also ask your primary care provider about
receiving a comprehensive eye exam.