Diabetes is a serious condition that can affect every part of your body, including your eyes. At Southern Eye Group, our experienced ophthalmologists perform diabetic eye exams to diagnose a range of conditions so that we can provide effective treatment options to our patients from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and throughout the Gulf Coast.
The Importance of Diabetic Eye Exams
All patients with diabetes need to undergo a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), diabetic eye disease is the top cause of vision loss in Americans between 18 and 65. Up to 95% of diabetes vision loss can be prevented by regular eye exams by an eye doctor who specializes in diabetic eye care.1 Trusted Source Focus on Diabetes American Diabetes Association Go to Source
It is common for patients with diabetes to experience no early symptoms of conditions like diabetic retinopathy. Once patients begin to experience symptoms such as floaters, blurry vision, difficulty reading, or double vision, diabetic eye disease may have already begun to cause irreversible damage to their eyes. By attending regular eye exams, diabetic patients can address serious conditions at early stages when they are most effectively treated, potentially preventing vision loss.2 Trusted Source Eye Complications American Diabetes Association Go to Source
Diabetic Eye Diseases
When blood glucose levels are elevated due to diabetes, the eye’s tiny capillaries and blood vessels may be damaged. This can cause serious eye conditions that can not only endanger a patient’s eye health but may also lead to irreversible vision loss.
The leading cause of vision loss in people with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy3 Trusted Source Diabetic Retinopathy National Eye Institute Go to Source , which may occur when high blood sugar levels cause damage to small blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye called the retina. Not only can diabetic retinopathy cause blood vessels in the retina to leak, swell, or close off, but it can also cause the formation of abnormal blood vessels. This can lead to retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, or neovascular glaucoma.
Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms
Patients may not experience symptoms at the early stages of diabetic retinopathy. As leaking of the blood vessels in the retina worsens, symptoms may include:
- Blurry vision
- Floaters and flashers
- New vision problems
- Changes in the way color is perceived
- Streaks or empty or dark areas in the field of vision
In some patients, fluid from damaged blood vessels can leak into the retina. This complication of diabetic retinopathy is called macular edema, and can result in blurry vision, a duller appearance to colors, and wavy central vision. Patients may be able to control diabetic macular edema by regulating their blood glucose and high blood pressure, and proactive treatment by an experienced eye doctor can help prevent vision loss.
Retinal detachment is a medical emergency for which patients with diabetes are at a higher risk. When the retina detaches from the rest of the eye, it can cause symptoms such as:
- A sudden increase in floaters and flashers
- Shadows in the side (peripheral) vision
- A gray curtain descending over the visual field
If you experience symptoms of retinal detachment, contact Southern Eye Group for emergency eye care or head to the nearest emergency room for prompt care that can help prevent permanent vision loss.
The risk of developing glaucoma is twice as high for people with diabetes.4 Trusted Source Diabetes and Your Eyesight Glaucoma Research Foundation Go to Source Glaucoma leads to an accumulation of fluid in the eye, putting pressure on the optic nerve. Glaucoma has no cure, but early treatment can help delay or prevent vision loss.
Everybody is at risk for developing cataracts, but patients with diabetes may develop cataracts prematurely. Surgical treatment is necessary to restore clear vision after cataracts cloud the eye’s lens.
What Does a Diabetic Eye Exam Involve?
A dilated eye exam is a key part of regular eye exams for diabetic patients, which may not include an exam for glasses or contacts. By dilating the eyes, an eye health specialist can better visualize the retina and other internal structures of the eye. Once a patient’s eyes are dilated, the eye doctor may perform additional tests such as:
Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This test makes it possible for the doctor to assess the thickness of the retina and identify damaged blood vessels that may be a sign of diabetic retinopathy.
Wide field fundus photography: This test allows doctors to diagnose diabetic eye disease with enhanced precision.
If you come to Southern Eye Group for a diabetic eye exam, you can expect your eyes to be dilated. This will make your eyes much more sensitive to light, and it may hinder your ability to see clearly while driving. For this reason, we recommend that patients arrange for transportation on the day of their exam.
Frequently Asked Questions About Diabetic Eye Care
I have Type 2 diabetes: do I still need regular eye exams?
Yes. Both Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes increase the risk of serious eye conditions. The American Diabetes Association recommends that patients undergo a diabetic eye exam as soon as possible after they are diagnosed. Patients with Type 1 diabetes (or juvenile diabetes) should begin to have annual eye exams no later than 5 years after diagnosis.5 Trusted Source Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2016 Abridged for Primary Care Providers American Diabetes Association Go to Source
Will insurance pay for diabetic eye exams?
Yes. Annual eye exams are often deemed medically necessary for patients with diabetes, so they are covered by most insurance plans.
Can diabetic retinopathy be cured?
No. While there is no cure for diabetic retinopathy, progressive vision loss can be delayed with treatment. Treatment of diabetic retinopathy is most effective at the early stages of the disease, when patients may not notice symptoms. The best way to diagnose diabetic retinopathy early is to undergo annual diabetic eye exams.
If you have diabetes, it is vitally important that you undergo regular diabetic eye exams in order to safeguard the health of your eyes and your vision. To schedule your exam, please contact us today. Our eye doctors also offer a full range of treatment options for diabetic eye conditions. The diabetic eye care experts at Southern Eye Group are proud to be the practice of choice for patients from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and throughout the Gulf Coast
1 American Diabetes Association. Focus on Diabetes. Available: https://diabetes.org/diabetes/eye-health Accessed February 27, 2023.
2 American Diabetes Association. Eye Complications. Available: https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/eye-complications Accessed February 27, 2023.
3 National Eye Institute. Diabetic Retinopathy. Available:https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy Accessed February 27, 2023.
4 Glaucoma Research Foundation. Diabetes and Your Eyesight. Available: https://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/diabetes-and-your-eyesight.php. Accessed February 27, 2023.
5 American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2016 Abridged for Primary Care Providers. Clin Diabetes. 2016 Jan;34(1):3-21. doi: 10.2337/diaclin.34.1.3. PMID: 26807004; PMCID: PMC4714725. Available: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26807004/. Accessed February 27, 2023.
The doctors at Southern Eye Group have either authored or reviewed and approved this content.