CNIB is stressing the importance of regular eye examinations as part of a diabetic’s treatment protocol. This recommendation comes as a result of the 2011 Diabetes in Canada report recently released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) which details the importance of eye disease, in particular diabetic retinopathy, as a key complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The report not only showed that the prevalence of diabetes had increased 70% over a 11-year period from 1998/99 to 2008/99, it also stated that in the first 20 years after a diagnosis of diabetes almost all individuals with type 1 diabetes and more than 60 percent with type 2 diabetes develop some form of retinopathy. And, according to results from a 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey only 66 percent of individuals with diabetes obtain regular eye exams.
CNIB’s Vice President of Research, Dr Keith Gordon, a member of the Diabetes in Canada editorial board, stresses the importance of regular eye examinations for diabetics: “Because people with diabetes are at a greater risk for vision loss, it is vitally important that all diabetics visit an eye care professional for regular diagnostic examinations to help detect any early signs of diabetic retinopathy and to monitor any further developments of the disease,” says Dr. Gordon.
“There are typically few warning signs of diabetic retinopathy in the early stages and very often, by the time symptoms are noticed by an individual with diabetes, the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage, making successful treatment less likely and the risk of blindness greater,” adds Dr. Gordon.
According to the PHAC report, in 2008/09 there were almost 2.4 million Canadians or 6.8 percent of the population living with diabetes. It is estimated that close to 500,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and that approximately 100,000 of these individuals have a vision threatening form of the disease. A CNIB study, conducted in conjunction with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society two years ago2, put the total cost of diabetic retinopathy to the Canadian economy at half a billion dollars.
In diabetic retinopathy, elevated glucose levels in the blood can cause blood vessels in the eye to swell and leak in the retina. New blood vessels may also grow causing further damage. Severe diabetic retinopathy can result in total vision loss. While diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness amongst diabetics, the risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma is also increased in people with diabetes.
“Diabetes affects the organs of the body including the eyes,” says Dr. Gordon. “Controlling blood sugars and changing other lifestyle factors can help reduce the risk of developing vision loss due to retinopathy.”
Diabetes, a chronic disease that occurs when the body is either unable to sufficiently produce or properly use insulin, can strike at any age. November Davies, a 40-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario, has had diabetes for most of her life but learned the harsh realities of how the disease can affect the eyes four years ago. Even though she knew the risks diabetes posed to eye health, she did not include regular eye exams as part of her routine in managing the disease. “I knew the risks, but I didn’t take the precautions,” says Ms. Davies.
Consequently, by the time she was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy she had lost vision in both of her eyes. Despite numerous surgeries to restore her vision, Ms. Davies went from being sighted to having no sight within five days. Ms. Davies turned to CNIB who helped her learn everyday living skills and to undertake independent travel. Today she’s actively engaged in her community, regularly attending peer support groups and advocating on the part of people who are blind and partially sighted.
“CNIB is truly incredible,” says Ms. Davies. “They saved my life and gave me the tools to carry on.”
And she advises those with diabetes to get their eyes checked regularly. “It’s not a joke or a scare tactic. Get your eyes checked every year,” she adds.
For more information, please contact:
Sarah Snowdon, Specialist, Corporate Communications