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Diabetic Eye Disease: Various images of people: Man fishing, 2 boys looking at an eye diagram, and a woman getting an eye exam.
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The Best Things in Life: Controlling Eye Disease

[This is a video of a grandmother with diabetes who has discovered that she has diabetic eye disease. The video focuses on the need for annual eye exams for diabetics, and what can be done to treat diabetic eye disease.]

Mary Davidson: The best things in life? That's easy. They're my grandchildren. Oh, I know I'm partial, but I love just everything about them: how they look, how they laugh - they're always so full of questions - how they depend on me while their mom's at work. The thought of never being able to see them again or read to them or watch them grow - I don't know how I could have coped with that, and yet it's something that almost happened.

Male Narrator: It almost did happen to Mary Davidson because not long ago, without even knowing it, Mary was going blind.

Mary: I'd noticed that sometimes my vision seemed a little blurry, and I decided to get it checked. I thought I just needed new glasses, so I never expected what the doctor found.

Doctor: I know that Mary has diabetes, so I was looking for Diabetic Eye Disease, and that's what I discovered - a disease called diabetic retinopathy. It's a good thing we caught it when we did because if we hadn't it might have cost Mary her eyesight.

Male Narrator: Mary Davidson is hardly an isolated case. In the United States, there are 14 million people with diabetes, and while most will not lose their vision if they receive treatment, their risk is 25 times greater than it is for the population at large. This risk tends to be a good deal higher among people with Type I Diabetes, the type that usually begins in childhood and must be treated with a medication called insulin. It's somewhat less with Type II, which strikes people in their adult years. But with either type of diabetes there is a risk, and it's a risk that increases over time. In fact, among those who have had diabetes for 20 years or longer, at least half will show signs of a diabetic eye disease, and the most common of these by far is the disease diagnosed in Mary - diabetic retinopathy.

Female Narrator: This is a condition that affects the retina, the part in the back of the eye that captures the images we see. Now, the retina is served by a network of tiny blood vessels. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, these vessels weaken and break. The result is a leakage of fluid that causes the center of the retina to swell and the eyesight to blur. Now, with the more advanced or proliferative stages, new and abnormally fragile vessels form and break, which produces bleeding in the eye. Eventually this can cause the retina to separate or detach, resulting in partial or total loss of vision.

Male Narrator: Diabetic retinopathy is not the only eye disease that may affect people with diabetes. Others include cataract, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes clouded, interfering with eyesight; and glaucoma, where elevated pressure inside the eye damages the optic eye and, if left untreated, impairs vision. That's the bad news. The good news is that each of these diabetic eye diseases can be treated, and treated with success. Cataracts can be removed and replaced with synthetic lenses in a procedure that usually allows the patient to go home the same day. Glaucoma can be controlled with medication, although some cases may require surgical care, and diabetic retinopathy can also be treated effectively.

Female Narrator: 90% of the people with diabetic retinopathy, even those in the most advanced stages, can still save their vision, but they have to seek help. Now, the most effective treatment is laser surgery. In this procedure, doctors shine a laser - a tiny high-energy beam of light - into the eye, destroying abnormal blood vessels. Now, lasers are also used to seal leaking blood vessels and reduce the swelling inside the eye, but here's the catch: the treatments are only helpful if the disease is discovered early. Although this may not always be easy, sometimes there are obvious signs of trouble, like a change in how colors look, or a blurring at the center of what you see, or your vision becomes clouded, or you notice a loss of peripheral or side vision. But remember, it's also possible to have diabetic eye disease and experience no symptoms at all. Make no mistake, the damage is there, and while it can be halted it cannot be reversed. The vision that's lost is lost forever.

[Thundering Boom]

Male Narrator: The most reliable way to prevent all this is to have a comprehensive examination performed by a qualified eye care professional, such as an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. The exam will include a visual acuity test to determine if the patient does indeed have any problems seeing clearly. It may also include a painless test that measures the pressure within the eye, but these tests alone are not enough. The most reliable way to detect diabetic eye disease is a painless and easy test, in which the doctor, using drops to dilate or enlarge the pupil, examines the interior of the eye for early signs of disease - signs that will occur long before loss of vision. A comprehensive eye exam through dilated pupils, at least once a year for people with diabetes: that's the recommendation of eye care professionals, and that's the way to stop diabetic eye disease before it stops you. The way Mary Davidson did.

Mary: It's hard to believe, but it's true. Not long ago I was just moments from darkness - the moments it took to have my eyes examined. But it's because of those moments that I'm looking forward to years of seeing the things I want to see, doing the things I want to do, living the way I want to live - years of enjoying my time with my grandchildren and all the things that, to me, are the best things in life.

The Best Things In Life
Screenshot: Mary getting her eye examed.
"It's hard to believe, but it's true. Not long ago I was just moments from darkness—the moments it took to have my eyes examined."