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If you are one of the more than 26 million Americans with diabetes (like your editor), you know the importance of watching your diet and keeping track of your blood sugar. But, did you know it’s also important to have regular eye exams? November is National Diabetes Month, a national eye health observance established by the National Eye Institute.

Diabetes is the leading cause of death, disability, and blindness in the United States. Diabetes currently afflicts 8% of the American population and is growing. It is expected to affect 10% of adults worldwide by 2030. More than one in 10 West Virginia adults has diabetes, ranking the state in the top five nationally.

All people with diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 and pregnant women with diabetes – are at risk for eye-related problems. The longer someone has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy. Between 40% and 45% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. Typically, diabetic retinopathy has no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. But, the disease can be detected early through a comprehensive dilated eye exam, which should be conducted annually.