Kids with diabetes

Prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy in Children and Young People Living with Diabetes

Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2020, there were 34.2 million individuals with diabetes, totaling 10.5% of the U.S. population. Equally concerning are the increasing rates of diabetes in children and young people.

Approximately 210,000 children and adolescents under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes. The onset of diabetes in youth is associated with prolonged disease exposure and increased risk for chronic complications such as diabetic kidney disease or nephropathy, neuropathy, and diabetic retinopathy.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a serious sight-threatening complication of diabetes. The condition causes progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms at all or only mild symptoms. However, over time it can cause blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness for young adults in the United States and one of the most preventable causes of visual impairment. The rising prevalence of childhood diabetes has led to many children and young people at risk of visual loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2050, the number of Americans with diabetic retinopathy is expected to nearly double, from 7.7 million to 14.6 million.

What are the risk factors for diabetic retinopathy?

The risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Diabetes – Individuals with diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. The longer a person has diabetes, the higher their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Race – Hispanics and African Americans have a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Medical conditions – Individuals with medical conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol are at greater risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Pregnancy – Pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. If a woman develops gestational diabetes, she has a higher risk of developing diabetes as she ages.
  • Family History – Individuals with a family history of diabetes are at higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?

Some individuals may not have any symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As the condition progresses, symptoms can include:

  • Seeing spots or floaters
  • Blurred or fluctuating vision
  • Impaired color vision
  • Having dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Difficulty seeing well at night
  • Vision loss
  • Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes

Diagnosis and prevention

During a time when health care costs are soaring and a strong emphasis has been placed on value-based care and prevention, it is critical to also have an understanding of the economic consequences of eye disease. Diabetes costs the U.S. an estimated $327 billion annually, with $237 billion coming from direct medical costs and $90 billion coming from decreased productivity. With nearly 30 percent of diabetics suffering from diabetic retinopathy, it is not surprising that diabetes-related blindness costs can total more than $500 million per year.

Understandably, diabetes and diabetic retinopathy not only have an increasing impact on an individual’s health, these conditions also have incredible economic consequences. That’s why early detection and early treatment is so critical.

The American Ophthalmology Association found that one-third of Americans didn’t know a comprehensive eye exam was the only way to determine if a person’s diabetes will cause blindness. A study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology estimated that one in four cases of diabetic retinopathy could go undetected for years, risking vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Early detection and treatment can reduce the potential for significant vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. The American Ophthalmology Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least once a year.

Versant Health is committed to proactively working to provide education, early treatment, and diagnosis that will help improve patient outcomes and reduce health-related costs for vision loss.


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