How can an eye exam detect diabetes?

How can an eye exam detect diabetes?

Your eyes are expressive. They share emotion, happiness, sorrow, surprise, and they can also share information about your health. For instance, if the whites of the eyes are yellow, liver disease may be the culprit. If they’re red and watery, it could be a sign of an allergic reaction, hay-fever, or symptoms of a cold or flu. With so much health information visible on the eye’s exterior, imagine what is discoverable when you look beneath the surface. If an eye doctor can detect disease early, particularly one that is as prevalent and treatable such as diabetes, then it may lead to more successful outcomes. There are many ways that an eye exam can detect diabetes, and at Mountain Eye Care, we provide ourselves on the high-end eye exams that we offer to our clients. In this blog, we share some information about how an eye exam can detect diabetes. 

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What is the connection between diabetes and eyes?

Well-known optical complications that are connected to diabetes are sometimes called “Diabetic Eye Diseases.” These conditions include retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts which could endanger your ability to see, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. While cataracts are more likely to occur in individuals who have diabetes, age is a strong contributing factor. When glaucoma is associated with diabetes, it occurs after diabetic retinopathy has progressed. The disease that is most closely associated with diabetes is retinopathy.

How is diabetic retinopathy detected?

Standard eye exams won’t detect diabetic retinopathy, but a dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist can detect it. The NEI recommends an annual dilated exam for:

  • Individuals who are 60 or older
  • African Americans after age 40 due to their higher incidence of glaucoma
  • Individuals who are diabetic

What happens during a dilated eye exam?

The doctor will give you eye drops to dilate, or open, your pupils. This provides a better view of the back of your eye. The eye doctor examines your eye through a special magnifying glass and uses a bright light to examine the:

  • Optic nerve
  • Blood vessels in and around the retina
  • Back of the eye

Your doctor might also use a special camera to capture an image of areas that he or she would like to examine further. The doctor will then go over the results of the exam or tell you if further tests need to be performed.

Other eye exams that can help detect diabetes


Ophthalmoscopy allows your eye doctor to see the back of the eye which is where the retina and the optic nerve are. An ophthalmoscope is a magnifying tool that is used to examine the eye to detect abnormalities.

Slit-lamp exam:

A slit-lamp exam uses a special microscope and light source to get a 3-D view on the outside and inside of the eye. This is sometimes used with an ophthalmoscope to complete an exam.

Optical coherence tomography:

This exam detects fluid in your retina and other signs of damage that could indicate diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. Prior to the test, dilating drops are used to widen the pupil so light beams can be focused on the back of the eye.

There are many ways that an eye exam can detect diabetes. If you are wanting to schedule an eye exam for yourself, we encourage you to schedule it on our Mountain Eye Care website today! 

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