A tsunami of diabetic blindness

Written by Carol R. Kollarits, MD. Posted in Health and Beauty

Every hour, diabetic retinopathy causes three Americans to become legally blind (unable to read the big “E” at the top of the eye chart, even with glasses or contact lenses). Almost 10% of the US population now has diabetes, resulting in 24,000 new cases of diabetic blindness every year. This number will only increase as more people develop diabetes. What can be done to prevent this oncoming tidal wave of diabetic blindness?


1. If you already have been diagnosed with diabetes, have a yearly eye exam. If diabetic retinopathy is discovered before you notice a decrease in vision, appropriate treatment can reduce your risk of blindness from 50% down to 5%.

2. If you have diabetes and your annual eye exam shows no diabetic retinopathy, you can reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy in the future by good control of your blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, and body weight. Controlling these will also reduce your risk of developing diabetic kidney failure and other complications of long-term diabetes.

3. If you do not have diabetes but are overweight, lose weight to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Diet and exercise are the safest ways to lose weight. If you are considering gastric bypass surgery, know that you must take a multivitamin consistently after the surgery to prevent blindness from vitamin A deficiency.

Diabetes remains the leading cause of new cases of legal blindness among American adults between the ages of 20 and 74. The three recommendations above, if implemented, could prevent the predicted oncoming epidemic of blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy.

If diabetic retinopathy affects your ability to accomplish routine daily tasks, a visit to The Sight Center of Northwest Ohio could provide life-changing help. Once The Sight Center’s low-vision optometrist has assessed your vision, she may recommend that you meet with the occupational therapist (OT). OTs are trained to assist people who are struggling with daily life as a result of illness, injury, or disability. They can help people regain skills, master new skills, or identify different ways of doing things to achieve their goals. People with diabetic retinopathy may find they are having trouble with daily tasks such as:

  • Reading mail and bills
  • Writing checks or addressing envelopes
  • Reading newspapers or books
  • Seeing a restaurant menu
  • Reading recipes or seeing measuring cups and spoons
  • Managing daily medications
  • Completing diabetes management tasks, such as testing their blood sugar
  • Navigating steps or curbs safely
  • Seeing their computer, tablet, or phone
  • Participating in leisure activities, such as watching TV or playing card games.

Whatever your personal goals may be, The Sight Center’s OT will help you reach them. She may show you assistive devices like magnifiers, writing guides, or talking devices. She may also suggest environmental modifications to your home to increase your safety and prevent falls, such as adding grab bars to the shower, increasing overhead lighting, or keeping pathways clear. The OT can also provide family education and strategies to help cope with your vision loss. With the right tools, and an OT as your partner in problem-solving, you can increase your quality of life and gain independence in meaningful activities.

For more information about The Sight Center, visit www.sightcentertoledo.org or call 419-720-3937. ❦