By: Jen Blackstock
When most people think of diabetes, the first thing to come to mind is rarely blindness, yet blindness is a very real complication of diabetes: Diabetes is actually the number one cause of new blindness in the United States.
Diabetic retinopathy happens when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, which therefore stop feeding the retina properly, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Symptoms can include blurry or double vision; rings, flashing lights or blank spots; dark or floating spots; pain or pressure in one or both of your eyes; and trouble seeing things out of the corners of your eyes. Forty percent of people with diabetes have some form of diabetic retinopathy.
With the rise in the number of people with diabetes and the aging American population, it is no surprise that the number of older Americans undergoing treatment for retinal conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy increased 192 percent between 1997 and 2007. Additionally, there has been a significant shift in the types of procedures being performed, a new study has found.
Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disease of the retina that causes the loss of central vision. Both age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss and blindness.
The study analyzed Medicare data from 1997 to 2007 and found that the number of retinal procedures increased 192 percent during that period. The largest year-to-year increase (20 percent) occurred between 2006 and 2007, according to the study published in the October issue of the journal Archives of Ophthalmology.
In terms of actual procedures performed, the largest increase was in treatments for neovascular, or “wet,” AMD. New treatments for this condition include intravitreal therapy, or drug injections directly into the eye, of antibodies that block the formation of new blood vessels. From 1997 to 2001, only 5,000 of these procedures were performed each year. By 2007, the number had jumped to 812,413. Also increasing is the use of vitrectomy, a surgery to remove the gel inside the eye in order to treat retinal detachment — increased 72 percent between 1997 and 2007.
“Retinal disease is highly prevalent among older individuals, and both age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy account for more than half the irreversible blindness in older Americans. The prevalence of both macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy increases with age, and the number of Americans affected by these conditions is expected to increase substantially as the number of Americans older than 65 years doubles from 2010 to 2040,” says study author Dr. Pradeep Ramulu, of Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
With the rise of cases of diabetes and the aging of the baby boomer population in the United States, eye care and blindness prevention is becoming increasingly important within the medical community.