Diabetic Eye Exams

Patients with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy depending on length of diagnosis and level of control. They are also at increased risk for glaucoma, cataracts and other eye diseases. Our doctors provide a thorough examination while discussing your healthcare risks. We also will provide a copy of your exam to your primary physician.

Diabetes is a medical condition where your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. This causes an increase of blood sugar in your bloodstream. If left uncontrolled this increase will start to cause damage to all the small blood vessels in your body. Not only can it affect your organs and extremities, but it can also cause permanent damage to your eyes. If you have a history of diabetes, we recommend having an annual eye exam to help identify any eye problems early. Most primary care doctors or endocrinologists require their patients to have an annual eye exam and we are more than happy to coordinate with these doctors by sending letters discussing any potential issues that were found during the exam. Be sure to tell the optometrist the names of your doctors that are managing your diabetes.

Three of the most common eye conditions associated with diabetes are diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, and glaucoma.

Diabetic Retinopathy:

Uncontrolled blood sugar is one of the biggest causes of diabetic retinopathy. Elevated levels of sugar in the blood can begin to cut off blood supply to the small vessels that provide oxygen to the retina. There are multiple stages of diabetic retinopathy: mild, moderate, severe, and proliferative.

Early diabetic retinopathy occurs when new blood vessels in the eye aren’t growing like they should. These vessels will weaken and will sometimes leak fluid and blood into the retina. Due to the weakening vessels, the larger vessels in the retina will begin to dilate and become irregular as well. Early-stage diabetic retinopathy can lead to a condition called macular edema.

Advanced diabetic retinopathy occurs when the early stage progresses without proper control. While early diabetic retinopathy’s vessels aren’t growing like they should, the vessels in patients with advanced stage diabetic retinopathy close off. This causes the eye to grow new and abnormal blood vessels in the retina (known as neovascularization). These vessels are weak and will eventually cause scar tissue to build up in the eye. These vessels can also block the drainage of fluid in the eye. If this occurs, internal pressure will build up in the eye and begin to put pressure on the optic nerve. If left unchecked this pressure can result in glaucoma or permanent vision loss.

Macular Edema:

As discussed earlier. This condition can be caused by diabetic retinopathy. The center of the retina called the macula begins to swell. As the macula swells it will begin to put pressure on other blood vessels in the eye causing them to leak. This will result in vision loss.


Glaucoma occurs when the new blood vessels begin to grow in front of the Iris. These vessels are attempting to grow to provide oxygen and nutrients to the eye since the primary ones have become blocked. However, these vessels begin to interfere with the normal fluid flow out of the eye. If this fluid flow becomes blocked, pressure will build up in the eye and cause pressure on the optic nerve. This nerve carries images from your eye to your brain.

Retinal Detachment:

Due to diabetic retinopathy, scar tissue can begin to grow in the eye. This scar tissue can put pressure on the retina causing it to tear away from the back of the eye. This will cause you to have flashes of light, floaters or vision loss.

During a diabetic eye exam, our doctor will thoroughly discuss your medical health and eye health. During the exam special attention will be given to the retina and blood vessels in your eye. This will require a patient’s eyes to be dilated so a clear view and picture can be taken of the back of the eye, retina, and optic nerve. Eye pressure tests will also be performed. We will then send the results of your exam to your primary health provider for additional reference or follow-up if needed.

Remember, if you are diagnosed with diabetes. Prevention is the best way to prevent many eye health problems. Remember to manage your diabetes and blood sugar levels. Schedule regular visits with your primary health provider and have an annual diabetic eye examination.

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