November is officially Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Diabetic eye disease represents a group of eye conditions that affects those with diabetes. The most common of these is diabetic retinopathy although cataracts and glaucoma also figure prominently among diabetics. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable vision loss and affects 30% to 50% of working-age diabetics.
Diabetic retinopathy is a potentially blinding condition in which the blood vessels inside the retina become damaged from the high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes. This leads to fluids leaking into the retina and obstructing blood flow. Both may cause severe vision loss.
There are approximately 30 million people who have diabetes in the United States and over 422 million globally. Many are unaware of the risk of vision loss as early symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are often unnoticed. Vision may not be affected until the disease reaches a more progressive stage where the disease is less easily treated. Early detection of the disease can reduce vision loss by up to 95%. What’s more, lowering one’s blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels can significantly delay the onset or progression of the disease.
It is recommended that all diabetics get an annual retinal exam. However, only about 50% of diabetics actually undergo an exam. This is due to many factors including patient awareness given that diabetic retinopathy is a condition without early symptoms. However, access to retinal screenings remains a key challenge for health systems in North America and in many parts of the world. Making screening a fundamental part of routine primary care is a huge step in the right direction.
Telemedicine is also paying a major role in improving access to retinal screenings. This approach offers diabetic patients more convenient access to get their annual retinal exam performed closer to home minimizing travel time—especially for remote communities and for those with mobility issues. Retina Labs teleretinal screening solutions have proven to generate significant measurable cost savings while improving patient experience and outcomes.