Diabetes one of the primary causes of blindness in New Brunswick


In New Brunswick, the diabetes epidemic is blinding. More than 15,000 residents are living with some form of diabetic retinopathy, a condition that occurs when uncontrolled blood sugar levels cause blood vessels in the retina to swell and leak, leading to retinal damage and vision loss.

“New Brunswickers living with diabetes need to be aware that their eye health may be at risk,” said Theresa Lyon, Low Vision Specialist for CNIB New Brunswick. “In many cases of diabetes, retinopathy can advance to permanent vision loss or even blindness, usually in both eyes.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, at the time of diagnosis, nearly 21 per cent of patients with type 2 diabetes already have some form of diabetic retinopathy – and the risk only increases with the number of years diabetes has been present.

In fact, almost all individuals living with type 1 diabetes and more than 60 per cent of individuals with type 2 diabetes develop retinopathy during the first 20 years they have the disease.

“Perhaps even more alarming is often there are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy,” said Lyon. “Your vision is not affected and there is no associated pain.”

Diagnosed with diabetes in his teens, Paul Polley was not aware of the high prevalence of vision loss among patients living with the disease. Fast-forward nearly 20 years later and Polley was in complete denial of his sight loss and hiding his condition from his employer and colleagues.

Today, the Saint John resident is urging all New Brunswickers with diabetes to make their vision health a priority by having regular, comprehensive eye exams.

Most vision loss from diabetes can be avoided through early detection and treatment of the condition, managing glucose levels, eating healthily and regular exercise.

“Don’t wait until your vision loss is noticeable because it may already be too late,” said Polley. “If you’re a diabetic, your vision health should be top-of-mind.”

Diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent in Canadian society, placing even more people at risk of losing their sight. Regular follow-up with your family doctor regarding control of blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol also plays an essential role in helping to preserve vision.

To arrange an interview, please contact:
Nicole Lawrence
Communications Specialist, CNIB
902.453.1480, ext. 5721

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