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National Diabetes Month

The month of November is American Diabetes Month. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States in adults ages 20-74. During November, members of various health care organizations nationwide are joining together in an effort to prevent blindness in Americans with diabetes.

Diabetes affects many people and interferes with the body's ability to use and store sugar. This can have an affect on many parts of the body, including the eye. In the eye, diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy due to weakening of the small blood vessels that serve the light-sensitive portion of the back of your eye. This weakening may cause the blood vessels to leak, enlarge, or develop brush-like branches. These changes may be vision-threatening if left untreated.

In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy may produce blurry or unstable vision. Further progression leads to blind spots, floaters, or cloudy vision. It is also possible not to have any visual symptoms of diabetic retinopathy early in the disease. Because it can lead to blindness, however, it is important that diabetics or those with a family history of diabetes have their eyes examined regularly by a doctor of optometry.

The American Diabetes Association and the American Optometric Association, which represents more than 33,000 doctors of optometry, students of optometry, and paraoptometric assistants and technicians, recommend a dilated eye exam annually.

An optometrist can look inside your eye for signs of diabetic retinopathy. If found, laser and other surgical treatments can be used to reduce its progression and decrease the risk of vision loss. Your optometrist can discuss the different treatments available and decide which is appropriate for you. Early treatment is important, because once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent.

If you are diabetic, you are at a high risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. To minimize that risk, see a diabetic specialist regularly and follow his or her advice. Take your prescribed medicine as instructed, follow a proper diet, exercise regularly, and have your eyes examined regularly. If you or a member of your family has not received a dilated eye examination in the past year, you should contact your optometrist for an appointment.

For comprehensive vision and eye care (including diabetic eye evaluations) in Big Rapids, see Patient Care at MCO