Approximately 1 in 20 individuals with diabetes suffer from proliferative diabetic retinopathy, which is the primary cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20 to 65 years old. According to Prevent Blindness America, all people with diabetes are at a higher risk for vision loss and blindness. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has designated November as National Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month to spread knowledge of the many vision complications that stem from the disease as well as preventative measures. “Early diagnosis is critical in successfully managing diabetic eye disease,” said Taylor Smith, M.D., Jackson Eye Associates. “Many cases of diabetic-related vision loss occur because the diagnosis is made late in the course of the disease, when treatment options are less likely to work well.” Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the small blood vessels in the retina are damaged. Typically, there are no early warning signs with diabetic retinopathy but can easily be detected through a comprehensive eye exam conducted by an ophthalmologist. Signs a physician may observe are leaking blood vessels, macular edema, fatty deposits within the retina and damaged nerve tissue. If symptoms remain untreated the result could be permanent and irreversible vision loss. “If detected early during a routine eye exam by an ophthalmologist, diabetic eye disease can often times be managed effectively, and permanent vision loss can be avoided,” stated Dr. Taylor Smith. Individuals with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Also, recent studies have concluded that people of African American and Hispanic ethnicities are at higher risk of acquiring a diabetic eye disease. The most effective step that you or a loved one can take to combat vision loss due to diabetes is to schedule an annual comprehensive eye exam.