Young, low-income diabetics may not know
they need annual eye exams, a new study suggests.
At a large public hospital where the study
was done, few diabetic patients had visited the eye care clinic within the last
That's troubling because without regular
eye care, diabetics can lose their vision, author Paul MacLennan told Reuters
Health. MacLennan led the study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
School of Medicine.
Roughly 26 million people in the US have
diabetes – and about a third of them have a dangerous eye condition called
diabetic retinopathy, according to the Centres for Disease Control and
Prevention. In diabetic retinopathy, the retina doesn't receive enough blood,
and people can go blind as a result. In early stages, the changes in the eye
are hard to detect. Diabetic retinopathy
Laser treatments can help slow or stop
vision loss, but they cannot restore sight that's already lost, according to
the American Optometric Association.
That's why it's important to catch the
condition in its first stages with regular eye exams."Diabetic retinopathy
is the leading cause of blindness among working-aged adults in the United
States," MacLennan told Reuters Health in an e-mail. "People with
diabetes are also at increased risk for other eye disease such as glaucoma and
cataracts," he said.
Patients are at risk regardless of whether
their diabetes is type 1 or type 2. Several US health authorities agree that
people with type 2 diabetes should have eye exams every year, and those with
type 1 should have yearly exams starting five years after their diagnosis.
For the new study, researchers examined the
records of 867 diabetic adults who visited an outpatient clinic at Cooper Green
Mercy Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2007. Three quarters of the patients
were black. On average, patients had been diagnosed with diabetes about three
More than half had uncontrolled diabetes
and more than half were uninsured.
Receiving the message
Only 33% of patients had visited the eye
care clinic within the previous year, and 45% had visited in the previous two
years, according to results in JAMA Ophthalmology.
Compared to those older than age 65,
patients between 19 and 39 years old were less likely to have visited the eye
That's not surprising, MacLennan said,
because generally, "younger people have not had a long duration of
diagnosis and are likely to have not as frequently received the message that
annual eye care is important.
"Educating patients and providers
about eye health could help increase awareness and necessary eye exams, he
said." Recent studies suggest that only 2 in 3 people with diabetes follow
the recommended guidelines," MacLennan said.
The results of the study add to the
evidence that poor African Americans don't receive adequate eye care, he
said. "Educational efforts directed at younger minorities with diabetes
have the potential to increase awareness of the importance of eye care among
these groups," he said.