Why an Annual Eye Exam is Important If You Have Diabetes


If you have diabetes, do you get your eyes checked every year for diabetic retinopathy? The goal of this routine screening is early detection, the best way to reduce the chances the condition will lead to vision loss.

Vision Threats

It is estimated 40 percent of people with diabetes over age 40 will develop diabetic retinopathy, and 20 percent of those will experience threats to their vision. You’re at increased risk the longer you’ve had diabetes and the higher your A1C levels—a measure of your glucose control.

Diabetic retinopathy is not the only threat to your vision if you have diabetes. You’re also at higher risk for cataracts, which clouds the lens of your eye, and macular degeneration, which destroys your sharp, central vision. Early detection and treatment of these conditions can preserve vision.

Guidelines to Follow

The American Diabetes Association endorses annual dilated eye examinations in people over age 10 with type 1 diabetes, starting within three to five years of diagnosis, and in all people with type 2 diabetes, shortly after diagnosis.

For women with pre-existing diabetes who become pregnant, a comprehensive eye examination is recommended during the first trimester with close follow-up as needed. Pregnancy can increase the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and its progression.

Why Is Diabetic Retinopathy Dangerous?

Your retina, the layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye, changes light and images into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina and lead to impaired vision or blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Because the condition often has no symptoms until there is bleeding in the eye, it’s hoped that routine screening will reduce the incidence of vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy progresses in an orderly way from one phase to another. Detecting problems early in each phase followed by the proper treatment can help to preserve your vision.

How Is Diabetic Retinopathy Detected?

The most common technique for your annual eye exam is for your doctor to dilate your pupils with eye drops and look at your retina using a lighted instrument called an ophthalmoscope.

Newer techniques that offer improved accuracy and sensitivity are becoming more widely available and the standard of care for detecting vision-threatening problems.

Choose Your Provider Carefully

Examinations should be performed by health care professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy—either an ophthalmologist, a physician specializing in diseases of the eye, or an optometrist, who is licensed to provide primary eye-care services. Treatment of diabetic retinopathy should always be performed by an ophthalmologist.

New Technology Improving Outlook

The growing use of new models of screening utilizing teleophthalmology—detecting diabetic retinopathy from digital retinal images sent via the Internet—is dramatically improving access to care, allowing more people with diabetes to continue to enjoy good vision throughout their lives.

Watch this video to learn about the TeleRetina program at Lancaster General Health Physicians primary care practices.

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Jo Ann Detweiler, CRNP

JoAnn Detweiler, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner with Lancaster General Health Physicians Diabetes and Endocrinology. She is committed to helping people recognize and embrace their role in managing their diabetes through education, encouragement and support.

Call: 717-544-3059

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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