Looking into the Eyes of Diabetes

Vision problems among diabetes patients decreased in the past 15 years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Spotting eye disease early can help diabetes patients avoid blindness and other vision problems. The first step of early detection and treatment is knowing which diabetes patients are most at risk for eye disease.

Between 1997 and 2010, the number of diabetes patients with vision problems declined by seven percent. During the same time period, there was no increase in the number of diabetes patients who had visited an eye-care specialist.

"Get regular eye exams if you have diabetes."

For a recent report, Nilka R. Burrows, M.P.H., and other researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied data from the National Health Interview Survey in order to better understand the rates of visual impairment among adults with diabetes.

Vision problems and blindness are common complications of diabetes. However, they are preventable. The early detection and treatment of eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can reduce the risk of permanent vision problems and blindness.

“Visual impairment from diabetes is one of the most feared complications of this increasingly common disease and in many cases is preventable," says Dr. Christopher Quinn, an optometrist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., who not involved in the study. "The challenge is to make anyone with diabetes aware that many of the earliest signs of diabetic eye disease occur without causing symptoms like blurry vision or discomfort. Detection and treatment at the earliest stages are critical to prevent vision loss. All patients diagnosed with diabetes should have a comprehensive eye exam with dilation of the pupils performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to help preserve their vision."

In order to assess the effectiveness of efforts to reduce vision problems in diabetes patients, it is important to know who is suffering from visual impairment or blindness.

From the survey data, the researchers found that the rates of visual impairment among diabetes patients went down from 23.7 percent in 1997 to 16.7 percent in 2010.

The rates of visual impairment decreased significantly among most groups of diabetic adults, including men, women, whites, Hispanics, people with some college or higher education, and people who had diabetes for at least three years.

Despite this promising trend, not all groups of diabetes patients are experiencing lower rates of visual impairment. The rates of visual impairment did not decrease among blacks and those with diabetes for less than three years.

The survey's results also show no increase in visits to an eye-care specialist among diabetes patients with visual impairment. Between 1997 and 2010, the amount of patients who had seen an eye-care provider in the past year stayed constant at about 63 percent for those with self-reported visual impairment, and 57 percent for those without self-reported visual impairment.

According to the authors of the report, "Continued efforts are needed to sustain and improve the declining trends in self-reported [visual impairment] and to increase rates of recommended eye examinations in the population with diabetes."

They conclude that continued monitoring of visual impairment among people with diabetes will help public health officials make progress toward the goals of the Healthy People 2020 national initiative.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 21, 2011
Last Updated:
November 25, 2011