Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans are living with diabetes and need annual eye exams and specialized medical eye care to monitor the impacts of the disease and preserve their sight.

Medical and eye care professionals have historically observed a worrisome trend that many people with diabetes are not seeking the annual eye care they need to manage their eye health.

New research out of the University of Houston reinforces this concern and reveals that almost half of all people with diabetes are not seeking regular care. The study also revealed disparities in the level of care in Hispanic and African-American patient groups. Minority populations have a higher incidence of diabetes, but also are even less likely to receive the regular eye care they need to preserve their site.

“Diabetes is a disease that effects the smallest blood vessels in the entire body and a dilated eye exam is the only way any medical practitioner can visually observe blood vessels inside the body,” said Dr. Christopher Kuc, FAAO Medical Director for MOA – Newtown Square. “This is why annual diabetic eye exams for our patients living with diabetes are so important to avoid diabetic eye disease and preserve vision.”

Dr. Kuc also shared how eye health relates to overall health for patients with diabetes.

“When we observe a microvascular problem in your eyes, that can tip us off there also may be issues with the blood vessels in your kidney or the nerve endings in your fingers and toes as well,” added Dr. Kuc. “We are committed to working with family doctors or other specialists to make certain patients get the care they need.”

The large-scale study examined survey data over a 10-year period from more than 8,000 people with diabetes.  The results showed that only 66.1% of White patients were receiving annual diabetic eye exams and only 55.5% of Hispanic and African-American patients were getting the care they needed.

The study drives home the need for more widely available screening for both diabetes and diabetes-related eye disease, particularly among minority populations.

“The entire medical community needs to work harder to educate and motivate our patients with diabetes and prediabetes to get the regular medical care and medical eye care they need,” said Dr. Kuc. “This is especially true for underserved populations in our communities as this study highlights. We have more work to do and need to be sure patients are getting the resources and care they need.”