Ignorance of eye health risk associated with diabetes risks blindness for millions

9 April 2009

A survey conducted by Transitions Optical, Inc. in the US reveals a dangerous lack of awareness about eye health risks, with less than 40% of the population surveyed correctly identifying vision issues as possible complications of diabetes.

In this survey, the majority of diabetics queried were similarly unaware of the risks of vision-compromising direct and indirect effects of diabetes on the eyes, despite the fact that diabetes is currently recognized as the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20-74.

The research also reveals that there is a higher incidence of diabetes among minority groups. Both African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes and their lack of awareness is equally low.

"Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. Aside from its direct effects in decreasing visual acuity and causing blindness, diabetes can also significantly impact quality of vision by reducing contrast sensitivity and accentuating glare," says Dr Susan Stenson, ophthalmologist and global medical director at Transitions Optical.

"While the major recognized direct ocular complication of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, diabetes also appears to increase susceptibility to a number of common vision-threatening diseases, such as cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Furthermore, diabetics may be at a higher risk for the development of UVR-related ocular diseases," she added.

According to Dr Stenson, certain medications taken by diabetics can complicate the vision picture even more, altering the refractive state, increasing photosensitivity, and potentiating adverse effects of UVR on the eyes.

"Low awareness of the impact of diabetes on vision and ocular health poses a real danger to diabetic patients," warns Dr Stenson. "Regular eye exams are essential to detect diabetes and its ocular complications early and to treat them promptly and effectively, especially since more than 90% of severe vision loss and blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy can be prevented with proper eyecare," she added.

An important component of preventative and maintenance eyecare is the prescription of appropriate eyewear to protect the eyes from such risk factors as impact and ultraviolet radiation and to promote quality of vision, visual comfort, and visual convenience for the wearer.

Spectacle lens enhancements, such as photochromic lenses provide continuous 100% protection from UVA and UVB, and, because they titrate incoming light for the wearer, they enhance contrast, reduce glare, and promote visual comfort and convenience under varying conditions of illumination. This serves to decrease eye strain and eye fatigue.

"The most important advice I can offer to individuals with diabetes is to take proper care of themselves — and of their eyes. Many, if not most, of the devastating complications of diabetes in the eyes, as well as in the rest of the body, are potentially preventable or treatable.

"I would also advise any individuals who may not have diabetes — or may not be aware that they have diabetes, since as many as 50% of diabetics remain undiagnosed — of the importance of regular medical and ophthalmic screening, particularly in the presence of such risk factors for diabetes as obesity or a family history of the disease. Talk to your eyecare professional about scheduling an appointment for a complete eye exam," Dr Stenson concluded.

Additional Findings from Transitions Optical and the World Health Organization:

  • mMore than 90% of severe vision loss and blindness caused by
    diabetic retinopathy can be prevented with proper eyecare
  • between 21 and 45 percent of diabetics do not receive regular eye exams;
  • between 17 and 37 percent of diabetics do not wear protective eyewear, such as prescription or non-prescription sunglasses or photochromic lenses, like Transitions(R) lenses.

Further information

To learn more about the impact of diabetes on eye health, visit www.transitions.com/diabetes

A new clinical research paper is available for downloading, Healthy Sight Counseling: Diabetes and the Eye,, supported by Transitions Optical through the Transitions Partners in Education program. The paper summarizes new concepts and recent trends in the understanding of the pathophysiology of diabetes, and how and why it affects the eye.

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