It’s estimated that 8.3 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes while another 7 million go undiagnosed with the disease. Still another 79 million Americans are categorized as prediabetic.

According to the American Diabetes Association, before an individual develops type 2 diabetes, they nearly always show signs of prediabetes. Prediabetic patients are classified as having higher than normal blood glucose levels, yet not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

For those who have diabetes, or are in the early stages of developing the disease, going to an eye doctor for a regular checkup can not only help identify the disease, it can also help minimize potential problems by catching them early.

High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can damage the walls of the blood vessels in the body. Since the eyes have a number of small blood vessels, an eye doctor may be able to detect signs of the disease during an exam.

Patients diagnosed with diabetes can also be at higher risk for eye problems including: cataracts, glaucoma and retinal disease.

Cataracts – A cataract is when the eye becomes blurry, clouded or dim because light no longer reaches the back of the eye. While cataracts are more common with aging, diabetic patients can experience cataracts at a younger age.

Glaucoma – Glaucoma occurs when there is high fluid pressure inside the eye, which can lead to optic nerve damage and vision loss. Your eye doctor can do a simple test to measure any increase in pressure. It’s important that those diagnosed with diabetes be seen annually by an eye doctor. Statistics show these individuals are twice as likely as someone without diabetes to develop glaucoma.

Retinal Disease – One of the most common eye issues associated with diabetes is retinopathy caused by changes in the retina’s blood vessels. The problem begins with leaking of the blood vessels, which starves the retina of oxygen and eventually leads to vision loss.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or are at risk for developing diabetes, it is important to keep up regular eye exams and screenings to ensure you are not at risk of developing eye problems or loss of vision due to the disease.