EyeCare America Provides Eye Exams to Seniors to Help Prevent Blindness Caused by Diabetes

An estimated 29.1 million Americans now have diabetes, with the number expected to grow annually. One serious consequence of diabetes can be vision loss or blindness due to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. According to the 2014 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 4.2 million people with diabetes aged 40 years or older had diabetic retinopathy, and of these, nearly 700,000 had advanced diabetic retinopathy that could lead to severe vision loss.

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November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology along with EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, want people to know that a simple eye exam can help prevent unnecessary vision loss caused by diabetes. To that end, EyeCare America and thousands of volunteer ophthalmologists throughout the United States and Puerto Rico are providing eye exams at no out-of-pocket cost to people age 65 and older. The organization and its volunteers are encouraging people to go to www.eyecareamerica.org to see if they are eligible for an eye exam in their area.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina. In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid, which can cause problems like macular edema. In others, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina.  

The only way to diagnose and treat diabetic retinopathy is through an eye exam with an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions. In its early stages, diabetic retinopathy usually has no warning signs. Over time, however, the vision blurs and everyday tasks become more difficult, and once lost, vision does not usually return. Left untreated the disease can lead to blindness.

"Although nearly one-quarter of people with diabetes has diabetic retinopathy, all too often people wait until they've lost some of their vision before seeing an ophthalmologist because they do not have insurance or cannot afford the out-of-pocket cost," said C.P. Wilkinson, M.D., chair of EyeCare America and an ophthalmologist. "EyeCare America aims to change that by matching patients in need with the more than 6,000 volunteer ophthalmologists nationwide."

EyeCare America is designed for people who:

  • Are U.S. citizens or legal residents,
  • Are age 65 and older,
  • Have not seen an ophthalmologist in three or more years, and
  • Do not belong to an HMO or receive eye care benefits through the VA.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The earlier that diabetic eye disease is caught the better the chances are of avoiding vision loss.

Page updated: Oct. 31, 2014

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