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Today, diabetes affects more than 29 million people in the United States or more than 9 percent of the population. In addition, another 86 million American adults—more than one out of three individuals—have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts people at increased risk for diabetes.

Many African Americans are included in these statistics. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of African Americans have diagnosed diabetes. Although all people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are at risk for diabetic eye disease, African Americans with diabetes are at higher risk of losing vision or going blind from the disease.

Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease and includes cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common diabetic eye disease, is the leading cause of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than 800,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and this number is projected to increase to approximately 1.2 million people by 2030.

“The longer a person has diabetes, the greater is his or her risk of developing diabetic eye disease,” said Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of NEI. “If you have diabetes, be sure to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Don’t wait until you notice an eye problem to have an exam, because vision that is lost often cannot be restored.”

Diabetic eye disease often has no early warning signs, but it can be detected early and treated before vision loss occurs. If you have diabetes, you do not have to experience vision loss or blindness from the disease.

“In fact, with early detection, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care, people with advanced diabetic retinopathy can reduce their risk of blindness by 95 percent,” adds Dr. Suber Huang, chair of the Diabetic Eye Disease Subcommittee for NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program. Here are steps you can take:

• People with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year to detect diabetic eye disease in its early stages.

• Early detection and timely treatment can reduce the risk of vision loss.

Research has shown that when people with diabetes maintain good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, they can slow the development and progression of diabetic eye disease. In addition to having a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year, people with diabetes should do the following to keep their health on track:

  • Take your medications.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Add physical activity to your daily routine.
  • Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
  • Kick the smoking habit.

Diabetes is a serious disease, and its complications can result in vision loss. Don’t turn a blind eye to diabetic eye disease. If you have diabetes, schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam and set your sight on healthy vision. For more information on diabetic eye disease and tips on finding an eye care professional or financial assistance for eye care, visit www.nei.nih.gov/diabetes or call NIH at (301) 496–5248.

The National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, leads the federal government’s research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs that result in the development of sight-saving treatments. For more information, visit www.nei.nih.gov.

NEI supports more than $45 million in diabetes research and outreach, including the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network (DRCR.net), a collaboration of more than 300 physicians at more than 100 clinical sites across the United States.

NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.