National Eye Health Education Program Spokesperson
Why is it important to raise awareness about eye diseases and conditions among Hispanics/Latinos?
Dr. Alfonso: Hispanics/Latinos have some of the highest rates of vision impairment and blindness due to eye disease. Common eye diseases such as diabetic eye disease and glaucoma often have no early symptoms and can only be detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Unfortunately, too many Hispanics/Latinos are not getting this sight-saving exam. The prevalence of eye disease among this population is high and is projected to grow even more in the next decade.
What is diabetic eye disease?
Dr. Alfonso: Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of this disease. These include:
- Diabetic retinopathy: damage to the blood vessels in the retina. This is the most common type of diabetic eye disease. It is the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
- Cataract: clouding of the lens of the eye.
- Glaucoma: increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve.
Why is it important to educate people about diabetic eye disease?
Dr. Alfonso: Diabetes damages the eyes, most often without any noticeable pain, discomfort, or changes in vision. When someone with diabetes begins to notice changes, the eye may already be damaged, and this can lead to reduced eyesight. Among the eye complications in people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. In the United States, Hispanics/Latinos are among the groups disproportionately affected by diabetes and are at a greater risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Vision loss due to diabetes may be prevented if glucose levels are kept under control and if diagnoses of eye complications are made early and treatment is timely.
What can people with diabetes do to protect their vision?
Dr. Alfonso: The best way to control diabetic eye disease is finding and treating the disease in its early stages, before it causes vision loss or blindness. All people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Also, they should follow these recommendations:
- Know your A1C (blood glucose), blood pressure, and cholesterol numbers.
- Take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
- Monitor your blood sugar daily.
- Reach and stay at a healthy weight.
- Get regular physical activity.
- Quit smoking.
Dr. Alfonso is an internationally known expert on ocular infectious diseases and professor and chairman of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.