An optometrist conducting an eye examination on an elderly female patient to evaluate her vision and glucose control due to Diabetes.

Diabetic Eye Exam

Understanding the Importance of Diabetic Eye Exams

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it is crucial to prioritize annual eye exams to protect your eyes from potentially serious and sight-threatening conditions. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to use and store sugar properly, leading to excess sugar in the bloodstream. If left uncontrolled, this can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common eye disease that affects approximately 30 percent of people with diabetes. It occurs when the blood vessels inside the eye start to leak blood and fluid into the retina, resulting in damage and potential permanent vision loss. Early detection and treatment are essential for preserving your eyesight.

Another complication of diabetic retinopathy is diabetic macular edema (DME). This condition occurs when the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for central and color vision, swells due to fluid leakage from damaged blood vessels. This can also lead to vision loss.

Even individuals with well-controlled diabetes are at risk of developing these conditions, highlighting the importance of regular eye exams. By monitoring your ocular health annually, any changes can be detected early, allowing for timely intervention.

How Does a Diabetic Eye Exam Differ from a Regular Eye Exam?

While diabetic eye exams share similarities with regular eye exams, they have a specific focus on assessing the health of the retina and the integrity of the blood vessels within the eye. Here are some key differences:

  • Pupil dilation: During a diabetic eye exam, your eye doctor will typically dilate your pupils to obtain a clear view of the inner structures of your eyes, including the retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels at the back of the eye. This is achieved by using special eye drops that take around 30 minutes to take effect. Temporary blurred near vision and light sensitivity are common side effects, but they usually subside within a few hours.
  • Fluorescein angiography: This test involves injecting a special dye into your arm, which then travels through your bloodstream and highlights any damaged blood vessels within your eyes. A specialized camera is used to capture images of the highlighted areas, aiding in the identification of any abnormalities.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This imaging test provides detailed cross-sectional images of the retina, allowing for a clear view of its fine details. It helps identify thinning or thickening blood vessels and the presence of leaking fluid.
  • Glaucoma test: Monitoring changes in intraocular pressure, which can be affected by fluid build-up in the eyes, is crucial for early detection and treatment of glaucoma. A tonometer is often used to measure intraocular pressure, and the common “puff-of-air” test is performed to assess the eye’s response.
  • Vision test: Evaluating your vision clarity for distant objects is an integral part of every eye exam. You will be asked to read letters of various sizes on an eye chart to assess your visual acuity. Each eye is tested separately to identify any discrepancies between them.

When Should You Schedule a Diabetic Eye Exam?

The recommended timing for diabetic eye exams depends on the type of diabetes and individual circumstances:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Schedule an eye exam within five years of your diagnosis.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Schedule an eye exam immediately after your diagnosis, as this type is often identified years after its onset, making early detection of possible retinal damage critical.
  • Pregnant women with diabetes: Schedule an eye exam within the first three months of pregnancy, and another one year after giving birth.

After your initial eye exam, annual follow-up exams are generally recommended to monitor your ocular health. However, if any changes are detected during an exam, you may be required to return for additional visits more frequently than once a year.

Remember, diabetes can cause various changes within the body, including the eyes. By prioritizing regular eye exams as recommended by your eye doctor, you can maintain good ocular health and preserve your vision to fully enjoy life’s special moments.