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Americans in the Dark on Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms, Risks, Survey Finds

PEORIA, Ill. – Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults, yet most Americans over 40 don’t know its symptoms or the risk factors for this common sight-threatening condition, according to a survey commissioned by the American Society of Retina Specialists

The condition affects nearly 8 million Americans, and that number is expected to double by 2050, but adults over 40 lack fundamental knowledge about diabetic retinopathy that could help save their sight. In fact, the survey found fewer than half of those polled (47%) knew that blurry central vision can be a symptom of diabetic retinopathy and only 37% identified seeing spots or floaters as a known symptom.

While most know that having Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes puts patients at risk of diabetic retinopathy, other risk factors fly under the public’s radar. Of those polled, nearly two-thirds (64%) did not know that elevated cholesterol increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy, and nearly half (48%) did not identify high blood pressure as a contributing risk factor.

During November’s Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, America’s retina specialists urge the public to protect their vision by learning the facts about diabetic retinopathy and adopting healthy habits to preserve healthy sight.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a preventable cause of blindness, so early identification and treatment is critical,” said retina specialist Kamal Kishore, MD of Illinois Retina & Eye Associates of Peoria, Ill. “Many patients with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy have excellent vision and no symptoms, which is the ideal time for a retina specialist to begin treatment. Diabetic patients with vision loss or symptoms should be evaluated more urgently. In addition to in-office screenings, telemedicine without eye dilation is also an option for diabetic retinopathy screening.”

Erik Elliott knows all too well how diabetic retinopathy can steal sight. The 39-year-old father of three was diagnosed with diabetes at age two. Over the years, he made his vision a priority, seeing a retina specialist for regular dilated retina exams since he was a teen. Even still, poor control of his blood sugar over time led to symptoms such as floaters and resulted in severe bleeding in his eye called a vitreous hemorrhage.

He lost significant vision in his right eye and had difficulty reading, driving, and working. He also couldn’t help coach his son’s baseball team as he struggled with his sight.

Thankfully, Erik contacted his retina specialist immediately when the symptoms occurred, and his vision was restored through surgery and ongoing management of his condition. For Erik, losing vision, even temporarily, has reinforced how critical it is to manage his diabetes and care for his sight to avoid future vision loss.

The ASRS and Illinois Retina & Eye Associates encourage the public to take the following steps to safeguard their sight:

Know the risk factors – Anyone who has diabetes—including Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes—is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Additional factors that can increase the risk include:

Disease duration: the longer you have diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
Poor control of blood sugar levels over time
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Kidney disease
High cholesterol levels

Know the symptoms – Many people have diabetic retinopathy for a long time without symptoms. By the time symptoms occur, substantial damage may have occurred. Symptoms may include:

Blurred or distorted vision
Difficulty reading
The appearance of spots—commonly called “floaters”—in your vision
A shadow across the field of vision
Eye pressure
Difficulty with color perception

Protect your vision through prevention – Retina specialists encourage those at risk for diabetic retinopathy to actively manage their health and protect their vision by:

Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol
Maintaining a healthy weight
Taking any prescribed diabetes medications
Getting regular dilated retina exams
Quitting smoking
Staying active

“Advances in early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease made possible by retina specialists can preserve sight and virtually eliminate vision loss,” said Dr. Kishore. “If you have diabetes and experience issues with your sight, partner with a retina specialist for expert care that can prevent, treat or reverse damage to the retina from diabetes.”

For more information about diabetic retinopathy, visit asrs.org/DiabeticRetinopathy, and tune into ASRS’s Retina Health for Life podcast for new episodes on the condition at asrs.org/RetinaPodcast. To find your retina specialist, visit asrs.org/FindYourRetinaSpecialist.

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