Diabetic Eye Exams

Increasing patient and clinician awareness and improving access to health care can encourage people with diabetes to seek annual eye exams, which help prevent a serious complication called retinopathy, according to a new systematic review of studies.

However, the studies showed that these tactics are less successful when conducted among ethnic minorities or in rural areas, according to researchers led by Xuanping Zhang, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Minorities have a higher prevalence of diabetes than whites do, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Some minority groups also have much higher rates of diabetes-related complications, in some instances by as much as 50 percent more than the total population.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when chronically elevated blood-sugar levels damage small blood vessels in the eye. The disease might cause very few symptoms before vision loss begins, and it remains the leading cause of new-onset blindness among American adults.

Careful control of blood glucose and blood pressure can reduce the risk of these eye problems, and in more advanced cases, laser surgery can often preserve vision.

The American Diabetes Association recommends dilated eye exams at least once a year for most people with the disease. However, in 1998, only 47 percent of U.S. patients followed this advice.

Regardless of patient characteristics, the American Diabetes Association Web site makes one fact very clear. “Having your regular doctor look at your eyes is not enough, nor is having your eyeglass prescription tested by an optician. Only optometrists and ophthalmologists can detect the signs of retinopathy.”