What Is a Diabetic Eye Exam?

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Diabetes is a chronic condition that’s characterized by high levels of glucose, also known as sugar, in the blood. It’s generally caused by an abnormal insulin response or impaired insulin production. Either way, too much blood sugar can result in a number of unwanted symptoms.

Nearly 34 million people in the United States have diabetes and 20% of them – one in every five people – have no idea they have it. Those numbers continue to increase and have more than doubled over the past 20 years. Today, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death.

There are a lot of risks and dangers of having diabetes, but one that many people overlook is the impact diabetes has on your eye health. For example, diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that’s characterized by damaged retinal blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) due to diabetes.

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So, what is a diabetic eye exam?

Diabetic retinopathy affects over 30% of all people living with diabetes and can quickly lead to vision impairment, vision loss, or blindness if not treated in a timely manner. That’s why early detection and a proper diagnosis are extremely important to preserving a diabetic’s eyesight.

diabetic eye exam does just that. It consists of a series of tests designed to monitor, manage, analyze, predict, detect, and diagnose common problem areas in diabetics. It not only detects diabetic retinopathy, but also diabetic macular edema, glaucoma, cataracts, and much more.

All diabetics should be seeing the eye doctor regularly for a diabetic eye exam – we recommend once per year unless directed otherwise. This gives your eye doctor an opportunity to maintain and preserve your vision long-term by identifying and detecting problems in their earliest stages.

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What’s Included In a Diabetic Eye Exam?

Unlike a comprehensive eye exam, which takes a look at your eye health as a whole, a diabetic eye exam is centered around the health of the retina and the blood vessels that surround it. This allows your doctor to detect diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes-related eye conditions.

At the beginning of your diabetic eye exam, your eye doctor will ask you a series of questions to gain a deeper understanding of your current health status, your family medical history, lifestyle choices, and habits. This information is vital to receiving proper and effective eye care.

There are also a series of tests that your doctor will perform, most of which are designed to take a closer look at the retina and blood vessels in the eye. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent tests and exams you can expect when scheduling your annual diabetic eye exam.

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Dilated Pupil Test

Your eye doctor will insert special eye drops into your eyes in order to dilate them. This gives your doctor a much clearer view of the eye’s inner structures, such as the retina, the blood vessels, and even the optic nerve. This is required for most of the tests during the exam.

Slit Lamp Test

A slit lamp is a special microscope that gives the doctor an even closer view of the eye’s inner structures. While the slit lamp can help your doctor see the sclera, lens, and cornea in the front of the eye, it can also be used to see the retina and optic nerve in the back of the eye.

Eye Chart Test

The eye chart test, also known as a vision test, is a staple in just about any eye exam – not just diabetic eye exams. It tests your vision clarity at different distances by having you read letters and numbers off a small chart. Your eye doctor will have you do one eye at a time.

Fundoscopic Exam (Ophthalmoscopy)

An ophthalmoscopy, also known as a fundoscopy, is a test that uses a small instrument called an ophthalmoscope. It gives your doctor a clearer view of the back of the eye. They can also use a slit lamp instead of an ophthalmoscope, which is known as an indirect ophthalmoscopy.

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Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

An optical coherence tomography, also known as an OCT, provides images of the retina’s cross sections. This gives your doctor a detailed view of the retina and allows them to see any thinning or thickening of the eye’s blood vessels, which would indicate leaking fluid (diabetic retinopathy).

Glaucoma Test

A diabetic eye exam will also test the eye for glaucoma, which is a group of eye conditions that are characterized by damage to the optic nerve. The damage is generally caused by an increase in eye pressure, also known as intraocular pressure, and gets worse over time.

Fluorescein Angiography

Fluorescein angiography is a test that involves injecting a special dye into the arm. The dye travels through the bloodstream and into your eyes, highlighting damaged blood vessels along the way. Your eye doctor then takes images of the damage to further analyze and evaluate.

Cataracts Test

A diabetic eye exam also includes testing for cataracts – a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which is normally clear. It’s a normal part of the aging process and is something we’ll all experience at some point in our life, but diabetics are at an increased risk at an early age.

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How Often Should Diabetics Schedule an Eye Exam?

Since everyone’s body is different and each individual is going to have a different experience with diabetes, there’s no real cookie-cutter answer to this question. Most diabetics can get away with one visit every year, but some doctors might recommend you visit more frequently.

Read more: Who Should Schedule a Diabetic Eye Exam & How Often?

As a general rule of thumb, schedule your first diabetic eye exam within five years of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and then every year after that. Those with Type 2 diabetes should schedule their first eye exam immediately after diagnosis, and once per year after that.

Contact Milwaukee Eye Surgeons Today!

If you have diabetes and want to properly monitor your eye health to preserve your vision long-term, Milwaukee Eye Surgeons is here to help. We have the technology, knowledge, passion, and desire to detect, diagnose, and treat any eye issues that might arise. 

We know how important your eye health is to you and your family, so contact us today to schedule your first diabetic eye exam. We can’t wait to care for you and all your loved ones!

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