Diabetic Eye Exams

Diabetic Eye Exams

A doctor talking to a patient at an eye exam
November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. Complication from diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness in the US, and data shows that its prevalence is continuing to grow worldwide. It is important for people living with diabetes to have regular eye exams to prevent damage to the eyes known as diabetic retinopathy. In this blog, we’ll discuss the importance of diabetic eye exams and how you can work with your eye doctor to help keep your eyes and vision healthy.

Diabetes Facts

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas, 537 million adults are living with diabetes around the world. This number is predicted to rise to 643 million by 2030 and 784 million by 2045. People with diabetes are at risk for Diabetic Retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that causes damage to the veins in the retina. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults, affecting over 7.6 million people, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). People with diabetes are also at greater risk for other sight-threatening conditions such as macular edema, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can occur in people with any type of diabetes, including gestational diabetes. This condition occurs when the blood vessels of the retina become damaged by the excess sugar in the bloodstream. There are 2 types of Diabetic Retinopathy:

Non Proliferative: Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR) occurs when the blood vessels of the retina begin to weaken, causing them to swell and leak into the surrounding tissue.

Proliferative: Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR) starts out as NPDR. As the condition worsens, damaged blood vessels shut off and new blood vessels form. This new vascular growth is weaker than normal and may leak or scar, leading to complications such as floaters, retinal detachment, or blindness.

In the early stages of Diabetic Retinopathy there may not be any symptoms, however, as the disease progresses, it may cause blurry vision, fluctuations in vision, blind spots, and floaters. People who have Diabetic Retinopathy are also at risk of developing other complications such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, Diabetic Macular Edema (DME) and cataracts.

Diabetic Eye Exams

Diabetic eye exams have many similarities to routine eye exams. During both types of appointment, your doctor will test your vision, measure your intraocular pressure (IOP), and dilate your eyes. However, during a diabetic eye exam, your eye doctor will focus specifically on the health of your retina and the blood vessels at the back of the eye. To do this, they may perform additional imaging tests such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) or fluorescein angiography (FA).

OCT of the retina


OCT: Optical Coherence Tomography, or OCT, is an imaging test that uses light to view the distinct layers of the retina. This allows your eye doctor to photograph and monitor the retinal blood vessels for changes or damage.


Fluorescein Angiography of the eye

FA: Fluorescein Angiography or FA is an imaging test that allows your doctor to look for signs of leaking blood vessels in the retina. To do this, your doctor or technician will inject a yellow dye known as fluorescein into your arm. This dye will travel through your circulatory system to your eyes, where it will shine as it moves through the retinal blood vessels. These vessels will be photographed using a special camera so that your eye doctor can monitor them for signs of damage.


How to Prepare

There are a few things to know before going in for your diabetic eye exam:

  • Your eyes will be dilated at this exam, which will make your vision blurry. You may want to have someone drive you home, and you should bring sunglasses to help with light sensitivity.
  • Your doctor will ask about your medications and blood sugar levels. Bring a list of your current medications, and write down your latest hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) results.
  • This appointment may take 1-2 hours or more, so prepare accordingly. It is a good idea to bring a snack to help keep your blood sugar levels normal.
  • If you have an FA, your skin or urine may look yellow for a short period of time afterwards due to the fluorescein dye. This will subside within 24 hours. Some people may feel nauseous after the injection. Rarely, an allergic reaction may occur. Your doctor will monitor you during and after the injection for signs of a reaction.
  • Diabetic Eye exams are generally billed to your medical insurance rather than your vision insurance. Be sure to bring the correct insurance card to your visit.

Diabetic eye exams play a vital role in preserving eyesight for those with diabetes. If you are diabetic, talk to your eye doctor about your health, and follow their recommended schedule for eye exams. Diabetic eye exams are done in addition to routine exams, so it is important to attend all appointments, even if you have had a routine exam recently. To schedule an eye exam, call or text (907) 328-2920. Thank you for reading our blog!


Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/diabetes-vision-loss.html

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas, https://diabetesatlas.org/

National Institutes of Health, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/outreach-campaigns-and-resources/eye-health-data-and-statistics/diabetic-retinopathy-data-and-statistics/diabetic-retinopathy-tables

Written By: Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC

Posted in: Uncategorized

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