People with diabetes are particularly in need of regular eye exams to get for signs of diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness.
May is Healthy Vision Month, set aside annually by the National Eye Institute (NEI) to encourage everyone to make eye health a priority. This is especially important for people with diabetes, who need regular eye exams to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy, which is caused by damage to the blood vessels on the retina.
Diabetic retinopathy can progress to blindness, one of the more devastating complications of living with diabetes. Timely treatment and follow-up care can reduce the risk of blindness up to 95%, the NEI has found.
This year, NEI is putting a special focus on women, who make up two-thirds of those living with blindness or visual impairment, due to diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. Among women 40 or older living in the United States, 2.7 million are blind or visually impaired.
“The majority of vision loss is preventable,” Rachel Bishop, MD, MPH, chief of the Consult Service Section at NEI, said in a statement. “And there are a number of things women can do to keep their eyes healthy.”
NEI has created a video featuring women’s stories to highlight the need for women to get a dilated eye exam. Other tips include eating healthy, knowing one’s family history, and wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays, which can increase the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Guidelines from the American Diabetes Association call for those living with diabetes to get an eye exam at least every year—and no less frequently than every 2 years—but a CDC report in 2015 found that younger people with the disease don’t always heed this advice.
Data reported by the National Center for Health Statistics found that only about half those diagnosed with diabetes in the past 5 years had seen an eye specialist in the past year, which the survey defined as an “optometrist, ophthalmologist, or eye doctor” when interviewing patients.
The likelihood getting an annual eye exam increased with age and with the duration of disease, the survey found. While only 38% of those aged 18 to 39 had received an eye exam in the past year, the percentage jumped to 54% among those aged 40 to 64 years, and rose to 67% for those 65 years and older.