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Main / Articles: Digital Camera May Help Prevent Diabetic Blindness

The snap of a camera and the click of a mouse may help detect and treat a disease that robs the sight of thousands of Americans every year.

Researchers are testing a high tech screening tool to catch eye problems in patients who are at high risk for blindness because they don't have access to the eye care they need.

Lucille Smith has diabetes and is at risk for diabetic retinopathy, a condition that causes blood vessels in the retina to break down, a leading cause of preventable blindness.

A digital camera snaps shots of Smith's retina. The photos will be sent over the Internet to be read by ophthalmologists.

The high tech eye exam is being tested at Wake Forest University as a tool to help prevent blindness among low income patients with diabetes.

"When we looked at our clinic, less than 20 percent were getting recommended annual dilated eye examination," said Dr. Ramon Velez, lead researcher.

Velez says the camera check is cheaper than a visit to the eye doctor and can be performed by trained technicians in community clinics or mobile health vans.

"There's a big cost to blindness, not just the mere fact that we lose one of our most precious senses," Velez said.

Studies in Europe showed the technology helped cut blindness rates among diabetics in half.

Researchers are hopeful it will have the same sight-saving impact in this country.

Some studies have suggested the digital photo eye exam is actually more accurate than a manual exam because it's easier to pick up subtle changes on a still photograph than a blinking and moving patient.

Regular eye checks are important for people with diabetes because eye problems are common and often have no early warning signs.

According to the National Institutes of Health, between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.

The American Diabetes Association recommends retinopathy screening with yearly retinal examinations beginning at the time of diagnosis of diabetes for all patients age 30 and older.

For patients under 30, annual retinal examinations are recommended beginning within three to five years after diagnosis of diabetes once the patient is ten years old or older.

Article source: LEX 18 HEALTH WATCH

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