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Eye, Eye, Eye: What to Expect at Your Next Diabetes Eye Appointment

Do you regularly have your eyes checked, or is it a struggle to stay on top of your appointments? Maybe you've put off these regular eye exams over recent years. Your medical team may be advising you to get routine exams and for good reason! These diabetes eye exams are important for protecting your eye health, especially with type 2 diabetes. These are common questions that you may have about diabetes eye exams.

What is a diabetes eye exam?

Diabetes eye exams are usually performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist who understands how diabetes affects the eyes. The examinations are usually comprehensive, which means that many different parts of the eye and your vision are checked.1

What is being checked during the eye exam?

One of the most important parts of this eye appointment is the examination of the blood vessels in the back of your eye. Most often, this is done by dilating your eyes with eye drops, but it can also be checked using a special machine. Sometimes, your optometrist or ophthalmologist may take photos of your eyes which is called retinal photography.2

Why are diabetes eye exams important for me?

Getting routine exams can catch any eye complications related to type 2 diabetes early. Early detection and prevention of worsening eye problems will protect your vision, your overall health, and independence. Poor vision can affect your ability to do important diabetes tasks, like preparing medication doses or checking your blood glucose levels. It can also be severe enough to interfere with your ability to navigate your way through your home safely or do activities of daily living, like driving.

What if my vision is blurry?

If you were diagnosed with diabetes at very unhealthy blood sugar levels, you may notice your vision is blurry. This is due to swelling in the lens of the eye from high blood sugars. Usually, this is temporary and your vision improves as your blood sugars return to healthy ranges. Mention the blurred vision you're experiencing to your doctor. Your eye specialist will likely wait to make changes to your glasses or contacts until blood sugars improve and your vision changes settle.3

How often should I be going for eye exams?

The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetes eye exams should occur every one to two years if you have no signs of eye complications and stable glucose levels. If you have signs of diabetes eye complications, eye exams should be done at least once every year, or more often if your eye issues are more concerning.4

A study of people on Medicare Part B showed that less than half of them had completed a diabetes eye exam over a five-year period. In addition, less than one out of five people had their exams done every six to twelve months. This is a BIG deal because routine eye exams can catch and treat diabetes eye complications in the early stages, leading to better outcomes.5

What are some diabetes-related eye complications?

Some of the terms for the various complications can get confusing. Let's discuss a few common eye complications associated with diabetes. These can include:

  • Diabetes retinopathy: with retinopathy, the blood vessels associated with your retina are damaged, causing leaky or blocked blood vessels. These lead to blood flow and pressure changes in the eye, which could decrease vision or cause blindness.6
  • Cataracts: the lens of your eye becomes cloudy, causing your vision to become blurry or hazy looking. You’re more likely to develop cataracts if you have diabetes. Cataracts may even start at a younger age.7,8
  • Open-angle glaucoma: there are many different types of glaucoma, but this is the most common. Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This damage can cause vision changes or blindness. Glaucoma can be caused by a number of different things, but diabetes doubles the risk of developing it.8,9

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The biggest takeaway is that diabetes eye exams done on a routine basis can catch and treat complications before you may notice changes in your vision. Eye exams are a key part of your overall diabetes management. Be a champion for yourself and schedule your diabetes eye exam today!

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