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Retinal Exams for Diabetes

Unfortunately, an estimated 10 to 25 percent of people with diabetes don’t know they have the disease. For some, signs of diabetes found during an eye examination may be the initial indication of the presence of the disease. About 20 to 40 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes already have retinopathy at the time of first diagnosis of diabetes.

When do I need a retinal exam for diabetic complications?

Most patients with controlled diabetes should have a retinal exam annually to check for any bleeding, swelling, leakage or ischemia in their retina. This annual exam is extremely important despite the presence or absence of symptoms. Complications from diabetes often start without visual symptoms. Having routine preventative retinal exams even if you do not have symptoms is critical in catching retinopathy early-on, at a treatable stage. Far too often, people delay their retinal exams until they have symptoms which can unfortunately impede the visual outcome. 

If you have retinopathy or your diabetes is uncontrolled, your eye doctor may need to see you more often. 

But I see fine . . .

You can have 20/20 vision and still have diabetic retinopathy. We see it frequently. In fact, if it weren't for being able to show our patients their retinal images on our exam room screens, we aren't quite sure if some would believe it!


Diabetic retinopathy is often asymptomatic early in the disease, this is why your primary care doctor or endocrinologist will ask you every year if you had your eye exam. Routine exams help find early signs of retinopathy, which gives your care team time to adjust your diabetic care and get any necessary eye treatments needed. 

What if I don't have vision insurance?

Most medical insurances cover a retinal exam if you are diagnosed with diabetes. Call our office to speak with one of our team members to help you understand your coverage. 

I already had a screening, is that good enough?

Retinal screenings typically include a series of photos taken by a technician. The photos are sent to a doctor to remotely review them for signs of diabetes. Screenings are a great way to help get more patients access eye care, they can identify some people that need treatment. 

The drawbacks of screenings are that without a dilated pupil, the photos are blurry and this leads to misinterpretation of the images. Other eye problems which are common with diabetes, like cataracts, make it difficult to get proper photos. The amount of retina that is photographed is also a portion of your retina, which means you still need the rest examined for conditions like retinal holes, tears or detachments with a comprehensive dilated exam. Retinal screenings do not check for eye pressure, a key component in screening for signs of glaucoma- another condition that tends to be more common in patients with diabetes.

A dilated retinal exam at Turlock Eyecare in conjunction with our in-office ultra wide field digital retinal imaging will provide the most comprehensive view of the inside of your eye.  The doctor will check for other eye complications of diabetes such as cataracts and glaucoma. You can leave feeling confident that you had the most thorough and comfortable examination available for diabetic eye care. 

Source: American Optometric Association Evidence Based Clinical Practice Guideline: Eye Care of the Patient with Diabetes Mellitus (Second Edition)

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