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The Gift of Vision: How to Protect It If You Have Diabetes

If you had to pick which of your five senses is the most important, would you pick vision? Sight is a gift that allows us to watch our families and communities grow, to perform activities we enjoy doing, and to see all the beautiful things the world has to offer. It is important for everyone to protect their vision, but especially so for people with diabetes.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have a higher risk of getting diabetes, which means they also have a higher risk of developing diabetic eye disease, a group of problems that left undetected and untreated, can lead to vision loss or blindness. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), 7.7 million people age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy and this number is projected to increase to approximately 11 million people by 2030.

There are many things people with diabetes can do to protect their sight, such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physical active, not smoking, and keeping blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol under control. However, the most important thing people with diabetes can do is 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.

“Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but can be detected early and treated before noticeable vision loss occurs,” said Dr. Suber Huang, chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for the NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program. “Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”

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For more information on diabetic eye disease and tips on finding an eye care professional or financial assistance for eye care, visit or call NEI at 301–496–5248.

Neyal J. Ammary-Risch, MPH, MCHES, is the director of the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP). 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 NEI, of the National Institutes of Health.