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Can Eye Exams Detect Diabetes?

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If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, it is important that you get your eyes examined by a licensed eye doctor. The effects of diabetes can cause stress or damage to your blood vessels, many of which can be found located at the back of your eye and retina. The best way to make sure your eyes are protected from the effects of diabetes is to receive a specialized diabetic eye exam.

At Eye Rx, we pride ourselves on being knowledgeable and approachable; if you are curious about our approach to diabetic eye exams, please contact us. Our staff is always more than willing to answer any questions or concerns that you may have.

What is a Diabetic Eye Exam?

Diabetic eye exams utilize many of the same tests as regular eye exams with one key difference: the exam will be framed with a focus on the health of your retina and the blood vessels located at the back of your eye. Diabetic eye exams also usually involve pupil dilation to allow your eye doctor to get a more clear view of the structures found at the back of your eye. These structures include your retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels.

During your exam, your eye doctor will apply dilating eye drops into your eyes — typically they take about 30 minutes to start working, and take a few hours for the effects to dissipate. Be aware that your eyes will be more sensitive to light due to dilation for a few hours after your exam; for this reason, you should arrange a ride from your appointment and come prepared with sunglasses to reduce any potential discomfort or accidents.

Fundoscopy

A fundoscopy, also known as an ophthalmoscopy, is a routine procedure included in many kinds of eye exams (including diabetic eye exams). This test involves looking through an ophthalmoscope — a device with a light, lenses, and various other optical modifications — to illuminate the retina through the pupil. Your eye doctor will conduct this test to examine structures located at the back of your eye, including the:

  • Retina
  • Retinal blood vessels
  • Optic nerve head 
  • Subjacent choroid (to a limited degree)

Typically, your eyes will be dilated during this portion of a diabetic eye exam.

Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) describes a type of non-invasive imaging test —an OCT procedure uses light waves to take detailed, cross-section pictures of your retina. This allows your eye doctor to differentiate between each distinct layer of your retina while also mapping and measuring their thickness

The measurements received from this portion of a diabetic eye exam will help your eye doctor with diagnosis and provide the initial guidance for treating glaucoma and other diseases that affect your retina (such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy).

An optometrist pointing to a damaged blood vessel on an enlarged image of a patient's eyeball

Diagnosing & Treating Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that is directly related to the complications of diabetes. Diabetes interferes with your body’s ability to use and store sugar, and sometimes involves too much sugar being stored in your blood. This can lead to damage throughout your body, including in your eyes. 

Diabetes can damage small blood vessels throughout your entire body over a period of time, and the affected blood vessels can potentially be located in your eyes. The specific condition of diabetic retinopathy occurs when your blood vessels in your eyes leak blood or other fluids, which in turn causes retinal tissue to swell and the effect of blurry vision through cloudy eyes.

This condition can be diagnosed most effectively during a diabetic or dilated eye exam. During a fundoscopy and OCT test, your eye doctor will dilate your eyes so they can clearly evaluate your retina and blood vessels at the back of your eye. While your eye doctor examines the inside of your eyes, they will be looking for any signs or symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.

Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy

The best way to avoid developing diabetic retinopathy is to manage your diabetes properly and carefully. This means you must keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range by attaining regular physical activity, eating healthy, and following your doctor’s advice and instructions on taking insulin and other medications related to your condition.

How Frequently Do You Need a Diabetic Eye Exam?

According to the American Diabetes Association, adults afflicted with type 2 diabetes should have their first eye exam soon after their diabetes diagnosis. People with type 1 diabetes should schedule their first eye exam within five years of their diagnosis.

After the initial diabetic eye exam, people who have been diagnosed with diabetes should attend an eye exam annually to monitor any changes in their visual health. A yearly eye exam increases the likelihood that one of our eye doctors will be able to catch any developing diabetic or eye-related issues and treat them more effectively.

If you have any questions or concerns about how our professional staff handles diabetic eye exams, please contact us or book an appointment. Our knowledgeable and friendly team is always prepared to inform you about what you need to know relating to our eye exams and can help guide you through the process of receiving an exam.

Written by Benjamin Teller

Dr. Teller earned his doctorate in optometry from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1996 and has been helping local residents see clearly ever since. After graduation, Dr. Teller completed an internship with the Hopewell Valley Eye Associates, as well as several externships with the National Naval Medical Center and Katzen Eye Group.

Dr. Teller and his late business partner Dr. John McTigue felt that the Metropolitan D.C. area lacked eye care providers that offered both comprehensive eye exams as well as eye assessment and testing services. To meet this need they joined forces, and in 2000 they created Eye Rx and opened our Chevy Chase location.

A proud member of the prestigious National Advisory Eye Council, Dr. Teller works with a team of industry eyecare experts to inform and educate the National Eye Institute on the current landscape of vision medicine research and technology.

Dr. Teller continues to serve patients in the D.C. area and has dedicated his career to providing you and your family with comprehensive and holistic vision care services.

More Articles by Benjamin Teller

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  • 1629 K St NW #502
  • Washington, DC 20006
  • Monday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Tuesday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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  • Thursday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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Eye Rx Chevy Chase

  • Address

  • 4600 North Park Ave, Plaza North
  • Chevy Chase, MD 20815
  • Monday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Tuesday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Wednesday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Thursday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Friday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • SaturdayClosed
  • SundayClosed
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Eye Rx Washington DC

  • Address

  • 1629 K St NW #502
  • Washington, DC 20006
  • Monday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Tuesday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Wednesday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Thursday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Friday8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • SaturdayClosed
  • SundayClosed
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