34.2 million Americans have diabetes according to the most recent National Diabetes Statistics Report from the CDC. Due to high blood glucose levels, people living with diabetes are at a heightened risk of diabetic eye diseases, many of which have no symptoms.
“If someone chooses not to get eye exams when recommended they can suffer significant vision loss that may not be reversible by the time they decide to seek treatment,” Dr. Jane Cho from Phoenix Retina Associates says, “Many patients believe that if they are able to see well then they can’t have severe diabetic retinopathy. This is certainly not true.”
Keep eye issues under control by staying up-to-date on your annual dilated eye exams to catch any signs of illness early on. The earlier you know about an issue, the better off you will be. We spoke with Dr. Cho to get her expertise on the importance of these exams, how patients can prepare for the exam, the type of doctor to schedule an appointment with, and more.
The Importance of Eye Exams
According to Dr. Cho, there are three major reasons patients living with diabetes need to get their annual dilated eye exams within the timeframe their doctor recommends:
- Diabetic retinopathy is a major cause of illness in diabetic patients
- Symptoms often do not appear until retinopathy is severe and vision loss may be irreversible
- Treatment can improve and slow the rate of disease progression when it is caught early enough
Putting myths to rest. Dr. Cho has heard that many patients believe that if their morning blood glucose reading is under control then their diabetic retinopathy should improve that day.
“Although having a good blood glucose reading is great, diabetic retinopathy is the result of diabetic damage over an extended time. The goal of each patient should be to have great chronic control of diabetes. A better way to measure one’s overall well-being is with the HbA1C, optimally less than 7.” Dr. Cho says. Part of managing your overall well-being also includes getting eye exams when they are recommended by your doctor.
Many people think a normal eye exam is sufficient if you have diabetes, but Dr. Cho says that a typical eye exam solely focuses on a refraction for glasses.
“A diabetic eye exam requires a dilated eye exam at which the provider will look into the eye and carefully examine the retina,” Dr. Cho says, “In our practice, we routinely also obtain a closer look at the macula which is crucial for high acuity central vision using the Optical Coherence Tomography.”
Due to the major differences between the two, it is important to confirm the type of eye exam you are getting and that your eyes will be dilated when you call to set up your appointment.
When You Should Get an Eye Exam
“Any newly diagnosed patient with diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, should get an eye exam. Depending on the level of retinopathy, the eye provider will then recommend an appropriate time for a follow up,” Dr. Cho says.
The follow up appointments will vary from person to person. Dr. Cho says that while some people need monthly exams, others only need a yearly exam.
Prepare for Your Eye Exam
Dr. Cho recommends patients know the information below to prepare for an Eye Exam:
- Your eyes will be dilated, so if you are uncomfortable driving with dilated eyes you will want to bring a driver
- Dilation can last up to 5 hours and make reading uncomfortable during that time period
- Always bring your most updated pair of glasses so the doctor can get your most accurate visual acuity during the exam
Find a Provider Who Performs Dilated Eye Exams
Now that you know why getting an eye exam is so important, you are likely planning to get an appointment on your calendar. It can be confusing to find the correct in-network specialist to schedule this exam with. That is why we are here to help.
Dr. Cho recommends narrowing your search to an in-network ophthalmologist or optometrist who provides primary vision care.
“When scheduling an appointment, the patient should always ask the scheduler if the provider provides diabetic eye exams to make sure their needs will be met,” Dr. Cho says.
Important note: While searching for a provider, you may come across opticians and wonder if you should schedule an appointment with one. Dr. Cho clarified that opticians are technicians trained primarily to fit and verify glasses on a patient once a pair of glasses are made. They do not perform eye exams, so you will not want to schedule an appointment with this type of provider.
Stay Focused on Your Health
If you are overdue on your doctor’s recommendation for a dilated eye exam, we hope you will take a moment to stay focused on your eye health and schedule an appointment today. Remember that ignoring these exams completely can cause irreversible blindness and damage to your eyes. Your eye health should not be pushed aside.
If you are a member of a plan that partners with Arizona Care Network, you can contact our concierge by calling 602.406.7226 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for scheduling assistance. We can help you find an in-network provider near you, or you can use our comprehensive list of in-network ophthalmologists and optometrists to identify a provider near you.