Diagnosing Diabetes in an Eye Exam?

Having diabetes can be scary but do you know what’s scarier?

Diagnosing Diabetes in an Eye Exam? Image

Being one of the over 174 million people worldwide who have diabetes—and don’t know it.

Diabetes complications can be serious and include high blood pressure, increased stroke risk, kidney disease, blindness and more. Keeping blood sugar numbers under control through treatment is key to staying healthy but the only way to receive proper care is to receive a proper diagnosis. And sometimes that can be tricky.

While symptoms such as frequent urination and feeling very thirsty or hungry can be a clue to some people and their doctors, others have issues so mild they don’t even notice them. It’s hard to seek a diagnosis when you don’t even know you have a problem.

This is why some people—about 1 in 5—are getting the news from an unexpected source: their eye doctor. While many think of an eye exam as a vision test, it’s so much more as ophthalmologists and optometrists check the eyes for conditions that can threaten vision and ailments that can affect a person’s whole health.

Diabetic retinopathy is a perfect example. This condition results from high amounts of blood sugar over an extended period of time clogging or damaging the retina’s blood vessels. Some people experience symptoms such as blurry and/or distorted vision, floaters or spots or eye pain but like diabetes itself others may not know anything is wrong at all. This is where the eye care professionals come in.

During an exam, eye doctors look for signs of swelling of the retina and/or bleeding or leaking fluids from the blood vessels which indicate the possibility of diabetic retinopathy. Certain diagnosis is often made by undergoing a fluorescein angiography - illuminated dye is injected into the veins and flows with the blood throughout the body including into the eye. Once it arrives in the retina the ophthalmologist photographs it and then can make a diagnosis.

Treatment depends on how much it has progressed with the earlier stages focusing primarily on keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels under control and cholesterol within a healthy range. More severe cases are often treated with laser surgery. For people who didn’t realise they had diabetes obviously a visit to their regular doctor is crucial as well.

While optometrists and ophthalmologists don’t have a crystal ball, they may have the next best thing—an unobstructed view into the health of your eyes and body.