Importance of Annual Eye Exams for Diabetics

Diabetes is an extremely common chronic metabolic condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. It is estimated to affect more than 30 million Americans, but a significant percentage of people remain unaware that they have the condition. Diabetes occurs when you are unable to regulate your blood sugar levels naturally. There are two types of diabetes. People with Type 1 must take medication every day for their entire lives. However, people with Type 2 can often reverse their condition through healthy lifestyle changes.

Many people are unaware that a diagnosis of diabetes doesn’t only affect their body, but can also impact their eyes and vision. This is because having persistently high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels that deliver blood and oxygen to a part of the eye called the retina. The retina is found at the back of the eye and turns the light it receives into messages that are sent up to the brain via the optic nerve. As the damage gets worse, your vision can become increasingly compromised. The longer you live with diabetic eye disease – which is also known as diabetic retinopathy – the more likely you are to develop complications with your vision.

Since diabetic eye disease often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms, routine annual eye exams are critical for early detection and treatment of the condition. Research suggests that diabetic eye screening performed annually could reduce a patient’s risk of blindness by as much as 95%. This is important because any vision that is lost as a result of diabetic eye disease is permanent.

Symptoms of Diabetic Eye Disease

The symptoms of diabetic eye disease are usually very subtle and develop extremely slowly, meaning that by the time it is diagnosed, some permanent damage to your vision is likely to have already occurred. Some of the most common symptoms of diabetic eye disease include:

  • Floaters and dots in your vision
  • Dark or empty patches in your vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems focusing on a person or item
  • Color vision that looks muted or abnormal
  • Partial vision loss

In most instances, diabetic eye disease will affect both eyes and will progress at a fairly equal rate. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with our eye doctor immediately.

lady with diabetes

What to expect from a diabetic eye exam?

Diagnosing diabetic eye disease is usually straightforward and involves a simple, dilated eye exam. This is where you’ll be given eye drops to make your pupils wider so that our eye doctor can see inside more easily. The eye drops may sting for a second when they are first administered, but any discomfort should pass almost immediately. Your eyes will probably be very sensitive to light for several hours afterward, so it can help to wear sunglasses when you go home.

Two of the tests that may be performed as part of the diagnostic process include:

OCT scan

Also known as optical coherence tomography, an OCT is an advanced imaging technique. It doesn’t hurt, and you’ll simply be asked to look at an object while cross-sectional images of your eye are taken. These show extremely fine detail and will illustrate any damage to the blood vessels of the retina.

Fluorescein angiography

This is where a special dye is injected into a vein in your arm. The dye then travels through your circulatory system until it reaches your eyes. When your eye doctor looks at the inside of your eye and takes pictures of the area, the dye will help them to identify any blood vessels that are blocked or leaking.

Is there treatment for diabetic eye disease?

As we know, any vision loss as a result of diabetic eye disease is permanent. However, there are things you can do to prevent further damage. One of the most effective ways of preventing diabetic eye disease is to get your diabetes firmly under control. This may be through making lifestyle changes, taking medications, or a combination of the two. However, if you have already experienced some damage to the retina, you may be recommended to try a form of laser treatment. Laser technology can be used to slow or stop blood vessels from leaking. In some instances, you may also be recommended to have a treatment called vitrectomy. This surgical treatment involves making a miniature incision into your eye to remove any leaking blood and scar tissue that could be affecting your vision.

If you would like more information about diabetic eye disease and the importance of annual eye exams, or if you would like to schedule an appointment for diabetic eye screening, call Progressive Ophthalmology today at 718-565-2020.