Authored by Revere Health

FAQs About Diabetic Eye Exams

April 30, 2018 | OphthalmologyValue-Based Care

It is essential for patients with diabetes to get regular eye exams. Diabetes is a serious disease that can lead to other conditions and complications, including diabetic eye disease. Here are some frequently asked questions about diabetic eye exams.

Why is it important?

Diabetic eye disease encompasses a few different eye problems, including:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: the most common eye disease among diabetic patients that affects blood vessels in the retina
  • Cataract: clouding of the eye’s lenses
  • Glaucoma: a condition that damages the optic nerve due to an increase in fluid pressure in the eye

Because most diabetic patients won’t know if they have diabetic retinopathy until the condition is severe, regular eye exams are crucial to prevent worsening vision and protect eye health.

What kind of doctor can perform a diabetic eye exam?

The doctor you see for your diabetes may be able to perform a diabetic eye exam in the office if they have the right equipment. However, if your primary care provider suspects something serious, he or she may refer you to an eye specialist for additional testing or treatment.

Diabetic exams can be performed by:

  • An ophthalmologist: Ophthalmologists are doctors who provide medical and surgical care for the eyes.
  • An optometrist: Optometrists are not medical doctors like ophthalmologists, but they are licensed professionals who can diagnose and treat certain conditions of the eyes and perform routine screenings. They often prescribe contact lenses or glasses.

If you are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, you will need to see an ophthalmologist.

What can I expect during a diabetic eye exam?

Before checking for signs of diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may test your visual acuity (your ability to see at various distances—this is often done using a letter chart). S/he will then examine your eyes using a special retinal camera or by performing a dilated retinal exam.

During a dilated eye exam, your doctor will place drops in your eye to widen (dilate) the eyes. This allows your doctor to better see the back of your eye and look for possible signs of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Leaky blood vessels in the eye
  • Changes to the lenses or blood vessels
  • Fatty deposits
  • Swelling
  • Damage of nerve tissue

You may experience blurry vision for several hours after the dilated exam and will be instructed to protect your eyes from sunlight.

How often should I get a diabetic eye exam?

The American Diabetes Association recommends the following guidelines for diabetic eye exams:

  • Patients with type 1 diabetes need a dilated retinal exam within five years of diagnosis and should be screened annually after that.
  • Patients with type 2 diabetes should get a dilated retinal exam as soon as possible once they have been diagnosed. Roughly 20 percent of patients diagnosed with diabetes already have eye problems, so it’s important to get early screening. Your doctor can help you determine if you can get a dilated retinal exam every two or three years or if you need an annual exam.
  • Pregnant women or women who are planning to become pregnant should get a comprehensive eye exam. Gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy) affects two to 10 percent of pregnancies each year. Pregnant woman with diabetes should get a dilated eye exam within their first trimester and a year after the baby is born.

Are diabetic eye exams covered by insurance?

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of a diabetic eye exam in full. Although it is important to remember that health insurance is different from vision insurance.

Health insurance provides coverage on eye care that relates to a medical condition like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy. Vision insurance provides coverage for vision needs such as glasses or contacts, which health insurance does not cover. Your doctor or a benefits representative may be able to help you better understand what will be covered.

Eye exams are important for everybody, but they are especially important for those with diabetes. Schedule an eye exam if you have not had one within the last year.

Revere Health Ophthalmology offers patients the best in eye care from the treatment of eye-related diseases and conditions to prescribing glasses and contacts.



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“Positron emission tomography scan (How you prepare).” The Mayo Clinic.

“MRI (How you prepare).” The Mayo Clinic.


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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.