Young People With Diabetes Need Retinopathy Screening Too

It’s equally important for adults, children, and teens with diabetes to have regular eye exams that screen for indications of diabetic retinopathy.

We may think of retinopathy as a diabetes complication that develops slowly over many years, maybe decades, but it can develop early on, and quickly. It’s the leading cause of vision loss for people aged 20 to 74, and early treatment is crucial for positive outcomes.

Many Youth At Risk

Unfortunately, about 35 percent of our youth with type 1 diabetes, and 58 percent of young people with type 2 diabetes are not receiving vision-loss screening within six years of their diabetes diagnosis. This was discovered by researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Additionally, the UM investigators found:

  • Youth with type 1 diabetes were more likely to have received an eye exam than those with type 2.
  • Youth living in a household with higher net worth were more likely to get an eye exam.
  • Black and Latino youths were less likely than white and Asian kids or teens to have received an exam.

Though all the young people in the study had health insurance, it’s unknown how many of those policies covered eye exams. Still, the medical and quality-of-life costs of not catching retinopathy early far exceed the expense of regular vision screenings.

“We must educate adolescents and caregivers on the importance of screening to improve care coordination between different medical specialists such as pediatricians, endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, and optometrists,” says researcher Dr. Joshua Stein of UM’s Kellogg Eye Center.

About Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when chronic high blood sugar leads to damage of the retina’s tiny blood vessels. The damaged vessels then hemorrhage into the eye causing vision problems. New blood vessels that may grow in response to this condition are generally fragile, creating additional leakage, scarring in the retina, and progressive vision difficulties.

If hemorrhaged fluids accumulate in the macula - the most sensitive part of our retina - patients are diagnosed with diabetic macular edema. This is the leading cause of vision loss associated with retinopathy, and the primary reason for new cases of blindness in those 20 and up.

Avoiding Severe Vision Loss

While no one wants to face a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, it is far better to receive it before symptoms are progressed. According to The National Eye Institute, early detection via a dilated eye exam, immediate treatment, and consistent follow-up care can lower the risk of severe vision impairment from retinopathy by 95 percent.

Dilated eye exams are painless, and can be performed by optometrists, retina specialists, and ophthalmologists. Drops are placed in a patient’s eyes causing the pupils to dilate, or expand. This lets the examiner see the retina and other eye structures clearly and assess them for signs of damage or disease.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests diabetic retinopathy screening five years following a youth’s initial type 1 diagnosis. The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Diabetes Association advocate for having the exam within three to five years. Screening is recommended at diagnosis for children with type 2 diabetes.

Sources: Reuters; Medical News Today; All About Vision
Photo credit: Sean Hagen

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