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Americans in the Dark on Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms, Risks, Survey Finds

Retina Specialists Urge Public to Protect Their Vision During Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month

News Release -- CHICAGO (October 29, 2020) – Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults, yet most Americans over 40 don’t know its symptoms or the risk factors for this common sight-threatening condition, according to a survey commissioned by the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS).

The condition affects nearly 8 million Americans, and that number is expected to double by 2050, but adults over 40 lack fundamental knowledge about diabetic retinopathy that could help save their sight. In fact, the survey found fewer than half of those polled (47%) knew that blurry central vision can be a symptom of diabetic retinopathy and only 37% identified seeing spots or floaters as a known symptom.

While most know that having Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes puts patients at risk of diabetic retinopathy, other risk factors fly under the public’s radar. Of those polled, nearly two-thirds (64%) did not know that elevated cholesterol increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy, and nearly half (48%) did not identify high blood pressure as a contributing risk factor.

During November’s Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, America’s retina specialists urge the public to protect their vision by learning the facts about diabetic retinopathy and adopting healthy habits to preserve healthy sight.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a preventable cause of blindness, so early identification and treatment is critical,” said ASRS president Carl C. Awh, MD. “All health care providers who care for diabetic patients should emphasize the importance of controlling known risk factors and the need for regular dilated retina examinations to identify diabetic retinopathy at an early stage. Many patients with sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy have excellent vision and no symptoms, which is the ideal time for a retina specialist to begin treatment. Diabetic patients with vision loss or symptoms should be evaluated more urgently.”

Erik Elliott knows all too well how diabetic retinopathy can steal sight. The 39-year-old father of three was diagnosed with diabetes at age two. Over the years, he made his vision a priority, seeing a retina specialist for regular dilated retina exams since he was a teen. Even still, poor control of his blood sugar over time led to symptoms such as floaters and resulted in severe bleeding in his eye called a vitreous hemorrhage.

He lost significant vision in his right eye and had difficulty reading, driving, and working. He also couldn’t help coach his son’s baseball team as he struggled with his sight. 

Thankfully, Erik contacted his retina specialist immediately when the symptoms occurred, and his vision was restored through surgery and ongoing management of his condition. For Erik, losing vision, even temporarily, has reinforced how critical it is to manage his diabetes and care for his sight to avoid future vision loss.

The ASRS encourages the public to take the following steps to safeguard their sight:

Know the risk factors – Anyone who has diabetes—including Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes—is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Additional factors that can increase the risk include:

  • Disease duration: the longer you have diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy
  • Poor control of blood sugar levels over time
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Kidney disease
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Pregnancy

Know the symptoms –Many people have diabetic retinopathy for a long time without symptoms. By the time symptoms occur, substantial damage may have occurred. Symptoms may include:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Difficulty reading
  • The appearance of spots—commonly called “floaters”—in your vision
  • A shadow across the field of vision
  • Eye pressure
  • Difficulty with color perception

Protect your vision through prevention – Retina specialists encourage those at risk for diabetic retinopathy to actively manage their health and protect their vision by:

  • Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking any prescribed diabetes medications
  • Getting regular dilated retina exams
  • Quitting smoking
  • Staying active

“Advances in early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease made possible by retina specialists can preserve sight and virtually eliminate vision loss,” said ASRS Foundation President Timothy G. Murray, MD, MBA. “If you have diabetes and experience issues with your sight, partner with a retina specialist for expert care that can prevent, treat or reverse damage to the retina from diabetes.”

For more information about diabetic retinopathy, visit asrs.org/DiabeticRetinopathy, and tune into ASRS’s Retina Health for Life podcast for new episodes on the condition at asrs.org/RetinaPodcast. To find your retina specialist, visit asrs.org/FindYourRetinaSpecialist.

The ASRS survey was conducted by Wakefield Research among 1,000 nationally representative U.S. adults ages 40 and older, between July 20 and July 27, 2020, using an email invitation and an online survey. The data was weighted to ensure an accurate representation of adults ages 40 and older.

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About ASRS

The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) is the largest retinal organization in the world, representing more than 3,000 members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 63 countries. Retina specialists are board-certified ophthalmologists who have completed fellowship training in the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases. The mission of the ASRS is to provide a collegial and open forum for education, to advance the understanding and treatment of vitreoretinal diseases, and to enhance the ability of its members to provide the highest quality of patient care. Learn more at ASRS.org. Like ASRS on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and follow us on Twitter for the latest retina health information.

(10.29.20)

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