Blindness caused by diabetes a growing issue

Nov. 14—Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness worldwide, and the concern is only increasing.

For local optometrist Dr. Steven Rosenak, it's something he can relate to on a personal level, as well as a professional one.

"It can affect you because you have your good and bad days but you need to understand that you have to have family support, that you are a different person," he said. "When you have diabetes, you may react differently but depression can creep in because it's a chronic disease and needs to be addressed to be successful."

Rosenak has dealt with diabetic retinopathy in the past but said it was caught in time to halt the progress.

Around 180 million people were living with diabetes worldwide in 1980, but that number jumped to 224 million by 2014, according to the World Health Organization.

Overall, about 50% of people with diabetes go on to eventually develop diabetic retinopathy, the disease that leads to blindness among diabetics, according to the National Eye Institute. There were more than 126 million people with diabetic retinopathy in 2010, but that's expected to grow to 191 million by 2030, according to the National Library of Medicine.

But the relationship between eye health and diabetes goes both ways. If patients are getting regular eye exams, then tell-tale signs of diabetes often can be caught early and steps can be taken to minimize concerns, Rosenak said.

"There are signs that we see inside of the eye indicators that they're starting to develop diabetic changes in their vision, in the way the eye looks on with photos," he said. "When we start establishing that rapport with the patient, we can work with their primary care doctors."

Warning signs can be physical features seen in images taken of a patient's eye, but they also can include symptoms like feeling tired despite having a good sleep schedule, Rosenak said.

Being able to assist patients with the prevention process is gratifying, he said.

"It's not going to go away, and so, it's always going to be there," he said. "If we can help the patient preserve their vision ... it's very fulfilling for us and also our responsibility."

Alex Simone can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.