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Diabetics need special eye exams to monitor for diabetic eye disease and other eye issues associated with diabetes.
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye conditions commonly associated with diabetes, including diabetic macular edema, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. (Learn More)
Yearly dilated eye exams are essential for staying on top of your eye health when you have diabetes. (Learn More)
For the prevention of diabetic eye disease, regularly receive comprehensive eye exams, consistently control your blood glucose and blood pressure, and don’t smoke. (Learn More)
The main goal of diabetic eye exams is to identify eye conditions and treat them before they become a threat to your vision. (Learn More)
Diabetic Eye Exams
Comprehensive and regular eye exams are an important piece of the overall care picture for people with diabetes. Your regular doctor may screen your eyes for major problems, but more detailed comprehensive eye exams must be conducted by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. These specialists can perform dilated retinal exams where they are able to see further into your eye and identify eye problems before you experience any symptoms.
Dilated retinal exams are important diagnostic and preventative health measures for people with diabetes. Eye doctors administer eye drops that dilate your pupils so they can see the back of your eye. With the help of a bright light and special magnifying glass, the doctor is checking for damage to:
- Blood vessels.
- The back of the eye.
- The area around the optic nerve.
A slit lamp may also be used to assess any damage to your cornea. A digital retinal scan or imaging may also be done to collect more detail from the back of your eye. Through this process, the doctor is able to determine if further tests or treatments need to be done.
Following the exam, you can expect your vision to be blurry for up to six hours or so. You should plan for someone to drive you home, as it will be difficult to focus on objects up close. It is also important to wear dark glasses or shades in the sunlight while your pupils are still dilated in order to avoid damage from the sun.
Eye Exam Guidelines for Diabetics
NIDDK recommends regular eye exams for people with diabetes. Recommendations vary slightly, depending on the type of diabetes you have.
- Type 1 diabetes: Within five years of a diagnosis of diabetes, you should start to receive yearly eye exams.
- Type 2 diabetes: As soon as you receive a diagnosis of diabetes, you should go in for a yearly eye exam.
- Pregnancy: For women who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, an exam should be done within the first three months of pregnancy and then again later on in the pregnancy. Your doctor may also recommend additional eye exams until your baby is 1 year old.
- Gestational diabetes: For reasons that are not yet entirely understood, diabetes that develops as a result of pregnancy does not tend to lead to diabetic eye disease. Gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy and may not warrant any eye exams. Blood sugar levels are monitored following pregnancy to ensure they return to normal.
What Is Diabetic Eye Disease?
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye conditions that frequently impact diabetics. Over time, diabetes can cause damage to your eyes that reduces your vision and can even lead to blindness.
These conditions comprise diabetic eye disease:
- Diabetic retinopathy: When damaged blood vessels harm the retina, diabetic retinopathy occurs. Blood vessels can deteriorate, bulge, or even leak on to the retina. As it progresses, diabetic retinopathy can cause new blood vessels to grow on the surface of the retina, which can greatly interfere with your vision.
- Diabetic macular edema: Diabetes can cause swelling of the macula. This ruins the sharp vision aspect of the eye, which is essential for activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. Over time, partial vision loss or even total blindness can occur.
- Cataracts: People with diabetes are at an increased risk for developing cataracts, or cloudy lenses, as they age. They are also likely to develop cataracts earlier than people without diabetes. High glucose levels are thought to leave deposits that build up on the lens and make it cloudy.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in itself that cause damage to the optic nerve. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as people who don’t have diabetes. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to partial and total vision loss.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), approximately one-third of people with diabetes over the age of 40 have signs of diabetic retinopathy. People with diabetes are also twice as likely to develop cataracts as people without diabetes.
Anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic eye disease, but the risk greatly increases for people who let their high blood glucose and high blood pressure levels go untreated. Attending regular health checkups and getting regular eye exams is the best way to stay on top of your diabetes and your eye health.
Tips for Preventing Diabetic Eye Disease
If you have diabetes and are concerned about your risk of developing a diabetic eye disease, there are steps you can take to support your eye health. These are the best ways to manage your diabetes and eye health, according to NIDDK:
- Consistently manage your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
- Quit smoking if you are a smoker.
- Get a dilated eye exam once per year.
Diabetic eye disease can develop with little or no warning. By the time symptoms become noticeable, considerable damage to your vision can already be done. Stay on top of your general health and diabetic care in order to support healthy vision for the long term.
The Goal of Diabetic Eye Exams
The primary goal of diabetic eye exams is to identify vision problems early on and prevent them from worsening. Through routine eye exams, vision problems can be recognized and promptly treated.
Diabetes is a complicated disease that requires continual attention. Get yearly dilated eye exams to ensure your continued eye health.
Diabetes Eye Exams. (January 2020). MedlinePlus: U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Diabetic Eye Disease. (May 2017). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases.
Effects of Diabetes on the Body and Organs. (April 2019). Medical News Today.
Ocular Complications of Diabetes Mellitus. (February 2015). World Journal of Diabetes.
Diabetic Retinopathy: Pathophysiology and Treatments. (June 2018). International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Ocular Complications of Diabetes and Therapeutic Approaches. (February 2016). BioMed Research International.