Many patients with diabetes know that they should have an annual eye health examination but many of those same people don’t truly know why. Statistically speaking, patients that understand why they should have an annual eye health evaluation have lower rates of, and better outcomes for, their associated health issues that go along with their diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans had diabetes in 2012. That’s almost 10% of the entire population! Even more staggering, over 8 million of these cases were undiagnosed, almost 28%. It remains the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and all of these rates are on the rise. So why should you care about your eyes with diabetes when there are so many other things to worry about?

The eyes are often referred to as the “window to the soul.” More accurately, the eyes are a window into the overall health of your body. About 30% of diabetic patients over the age of 40 have diabetic retinopathy, or disease of the retina directly caused by diabetes. An unhealthy eye in a diabetic patient is a quality indicator of the state of health of the body due to diabetes. This fact alone highlights the importance of annual comprehensive eye health evaluations, regardless of diabetes. In addition, diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness among adults in the world. Very simply put, the health of the eyes very closely mirrors the health of the body.

Diabetes can affect the onset and progression of several other eye conditions, including cataracts and glaucoma. Among many eye complications cataracts and glaucoma are two of the highest rates of complications that are effected by diabetes. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Adults with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely than those without diabetes to develop cataracts. Cataracts also tend to develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes. Glaucoma is considered to be a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve; the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. In adults, per the National Eye Institute, diabetes nearly doubles the risk of glaucoma.

All of this information highlights the essential need for yearly full eye health exams, not only in diabetic patients but in the population at large. The visual system and the eye itself provide a very unique view into the overall health of an individual. Having multiple avenues or means with which to explore overall health is crucial in healthcare, and it’s vital to use all of them to our advantage.