You have almost certainly heard of diabetes, one of the most common chronic health conditions in the United States, with an estimated 100 million adults currently living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. This metabolic disorder occurs when the body can no longer regulate its blood sugar levels and requires intervention to keep them stable. Most people are aware that diabetes can have serious consequences for our health. However, you may be surprised to learn that it can also influence our vision. Patients who have diabetes can go on to develop a complication that is known as diabetic retinopathy. Without prompt treatment, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent vision loss. As a result, patients with diabetes are asked to attend regular diabetic-related eye exams.
For us to see clearly, our eyes need to be healthy and functioning perfectly. The retina is the most important component of our eyes. Found at the very back of the eye, the retina is a patch of light-sensitive cells that convert the light that enters the eye into messages which are passed up the optic nerve and into our brain. Our brain then receives them and tells us what we can see and how clearly we can see it.
The retina relies on a continuous supply of blood, which is delivered using a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, having continuously high blood sugar can damage these blood vessels, causing a leak of blood and other fluids onto the retina. If this happens, scarring may occur, which can compromise vision.
Technically, anyone who has diabetes, whether it be Type 1 or Type 2, could be at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. However, the condition is more likely in certain situations. These include:
Regular diabetic-related eye exams will enable your eye doctor to monitor your condition and ensure that any signs of diabetic retinopathy are detected and acted upon immediately.
In most instances, the parts of a diabetic eye exam are included within the other elements of a comprehensive eye exam. You may not even realize that you have had a specific test to check for diabetes-related complications!
Diabetic eye screening is non-invasive. First, you will be given eyedrops which will blur your vision. These may sting a little when they are administered, but the stinging will pass within just a few moments. Once your vision is blurred, you will be asked to rest your head on a device and stare at a camera lens. This camera will take images of the backs of your eyes which your eye doctor will use to assess your eyes' structures, including the retina, for any abnormalities. You will see a flash when each image is taken, but at no point should you feel pain.
In addition to the images of the back of your eye being taken, you will also be given a visual acuity test. You will be asked to read letters off a chart posted a short distance away and from a card held close in front of you.
The information that your eye doctor will obtain from your examination will be able to tell them if you are experiencing any of the signs of diabetic retinopathy. If so, they will discuss the best way to get your condition under control. This treatment plan could involve a combination of elements, including controlling your diabetes more effectively, taking medications, or exploring more invasive treatment to preserve your vision. Your eye doctor will give you more specific information based on your individual circumstances.
Please get in touch with our knowledgeable eye care team if you have further questions about diabetic-related eye exams.