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Why People With Diabetes Should Get Eye Exams

woman getting an eye exam for diabetes

How a Diabetic Eye Exam Can Prevent Eye Diseases

By Amanda Springstroh RN, quality health coordinator at Network Health

Millions of Americans live with diabetes. For those living with this health condition, completing a routine eye exam is a critical step in preserving vision. Many people with diabetes-related eye disease are at risk for vision loss and possible blindness. The good news is that diabetes-related eye disease is preventable with early detection, timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with Type 2 diabetes have their first eye exam upon initial diagnosis and those with Type 1 diabetes have their first eye exam within five years of diagnosis. Following the initial eye examination, all people with diabetes should have their eyes checked yearly for any changes, address any eye complications and understand treatment options.

[Read more: Myths About Diabetes and Vision Loss]

Types of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease can take multiple forms, and each type of disease will come with its own symptoms and recommended treatments. One of the more complex types is diabetic retinopathy because it comes in two forms.

The below information comes from the American Diabetes Association’s “Focus on Diabetes Pocket Guide”

What Is Diabetic Retinopathy and How Is It Treated?

Just as there are multiple types of diabetic eye disease, there are also multiple types of diabetic retinopathy – two, to be precise. The two forms are proliferative and non-proliferative. The former type generally has milder symptoms than the latter, but it can lead to proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) down the road as conditions worsen. The disease begins as non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) by leaking fluid into the retina, causing swelling of the macula. In PDR, weakened blood vessels can leak blood that cloud or block vision.

As with many diseases, prevention is the first step. This can be done by managing blood glucose levels. If diabetic retinopathy does develop, progression can be slowed by blood pressure and lipid control.

Other Types of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease can take other forms as well. These include the following.

  • Diabetic macular edema – This can occur with NPDR and is caused by fluid leaking into the macula, which swells and blurs vision. This can also result in a complete loss of vision. Treatment is available in the form of eye injections, eyedrops, laser treatment and surgery.
  • Cataracts – These cause a clouding of the eyes, blocking vision. People with diabetes are at a greater risk for developing cataracts. Mild cases may be managed through the use of sunglasses and glare-control lenses used in eyeglasses. More severe cases may require surgery to replace the eye’s clear lens with an artificial lens.
  • Glaucoma – Glaucoma isn’t limited to those with diabetes, but it is more common. Pressure pinches the optic nerve and blood vessels leading to the retina which causes vision loss. Treatment involves medication and/or surgery.

Collaboration and communication among personal care doctors and eye care professionals is key in preserving and maintaining your health and vision. Here are ways to help make your eye care a top priority.  

Healthy Vision Checklist

  • Schedule your annual dilated eye exam and any follow up appointments
  • Monitor blood sugar and lab values as designated by a health care provider
  • Bring prescription eyewear to your exam such as glasses or contact lenses
  • Be sure to let your eye doctor know of any health changes
  • Assure all providers are aware of all prescribed or any new medications
  • Describe any changes in your eyesight since your last visit
  • Determine a treatment plan and next steps in protecting your vision
  • Eye examination results should be sent to your personal care doctor as well as billed to Network Health

Download the full Diabetes Monitoring Checklist here

By following this checklist and having an open conversation about diabetes and your eyes, you’ll be taking a big step in preventing any risks to your vision. If you would like additional information on how Network Health can help you with your eyesight or management of diabetes, reach out to us today by emailing [email protected] or by calling 866-709-0019 (TTY 800-947-3529).

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