Eye Exams for People with Diabetes

Keeping up with Eye Health for Long-Lasting Vision

If you have diabetes, did you know that you likely should have an annual eye exam? In 2017, about 54% of Medicare beneficiaries had their eye exam - about half of Medicare recipients.
Why is this so important, you may wonder? Read on to find out!

Why is it Important for People with Diabetes to Have Eye Exams?

An annual diabetes eye exam is an essential tool because it detects eye disease and benefits overall eye health. It is performed by a highly trained medical professional, an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist, though many people simply know their provider as an “eye doctor.”

Diabetes can affect your eyes in many different ways. The most common condition that it can cause is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which eventually affects the retina. Vision can become blurry and can even begin to disappear.

Common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include the following:

  • Floaters in the field of vision.
  • Partial or total vision loss.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Difficulty focusing.
  • Fluctuating vision changes.
  • Altered color vision.

Having a regular eye exam is important because the detection of diabetic eye conditions - especially retinopathy - can prevent them from getting worse.

Common Eye Tests for People with Diabetes

A typical eye exam for diabetics is broken into different tests. The first part of the test uses the Snellen chart; this chart is what we typically associate with a vision test - it uses letters and numbers in varying sizes to test vision.

The most important part of the eye exam is the dilated eye exam. During this portion of the test, the doctor will place drops in the eyes. These drops may sting, and a metallic taste can occur, but they should be relatively painless. These drops cause the pupils to dilate.

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Once the pupils are dilated, the doctor can view the anatomy of the eyes using magnification tools. They are visualizing the optic nerve, the back of the eye, and the blood vessels of the eye.

The doctor may also take a specialized x-ray called a digital retinal scan. This scan allows the doctor to see the retina in greater detail but does not require dilation. However, if there are areas of concern, the doctor would then require dilation.

Where to Go for an Eye Exam

If you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, you can speak to your current eye doctor about a dilated eye exam. It is likely that they have cared for many people with diabetes before.

If you do not yet have an eye doctor, many options exist. You can start by asking your healthcare provider for a referral to an eye doctor. You can also contact the number on the back of your insurance card and ask what eye doctors are covered by your insurance plan in your area.

When calling to schedule an appointment, whether you are established or not, you should notify the person making the appointment that you have diabetes; this will allow the person to schedule you accurately. They may also have additional questions when scheduling, which will better allow the team to care for you.

What to Know About Eye Exams

Many people fear eye exams because it can be intimidating to have someone near the eyes. It can be an uncomfortable experience. However, it is important to remember that a dilated eye exam is rarely, if ever, painful. It is also essential because it can detect complications from diabetes early, allowing for it to be halted before it becomes an issue.

It is also important to know what to expect. If you’ve never had an eye exam, you could ask what to expect when you make the appointment. You could also read about the exam prior to going to the appointment. It is also essential to know that you should either have a driver to bring you home or wear sunglasses; the dilation makes it difficult to drive for up to six hours after.

Lastly, you want to know the cost of the exam. It is difficult to give an estimate on the cost of an exam. The cost varies from region to region. Insurance coverage also varies greatly. However, you can estimate your coverage by contacting your insurance or asking to speak with the billing department at your provider’s office prior to your appointment. Eye exams for people with diabetes is essential to ensuring your eyes are in good health; don't wait until it's too late.