“Diabetic eye exam” is an informal way to refer to an eye exam for a patient with diabetes. The primary concern for patients with diabetes is a screening for diabetic retinopathy, which means a dilated retinal exam. (i)
(i)The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. The retina receives, organizes, and sends visual information to your brain so you can see. In people with diabetes, the blood vessels in the retina can be damaged by high glucose levels. Over time, the damaged blood vessels can cause vision loss.
Diabetic eye exam vs regular eye exam
Optometrists provide two types of eye exams, whether or not you have diabetes:
Routine eye exams are comprehensive annual exams including eye health assessment, vision testing, and a dilated retinal exam. Routine eye exams are for patients who don’t currently have any eye or vision complaints and just need a yearly check-up.
Medical eye exams are for patients who come to us for any reason other than a routine exam. Common reasons for irregular eye exams include eye pain, redness, sudden blurred vision, or other symptoms. Medical eye exams also include follow-up dilated retinal exams for patients with diabetes if their doctor recommended further evaluation after the annual exam.
Dilated or digital retinal exams
In a dilated retinal exam, the eye doctor uses eye drops to dilate your pupils, which gives a wider view of the back of your eye and keeps your pupils from shrinking when using bright light during the exam. Your eye doctor will use a magnifying device to examine the entire retina, optic nerve, and blood vessels.
In a digital retinal exam (aka retinal imaging) Optomap® technology takes a wide-angle digital image of the retina – no dilating eye drops are required. Optomap® images can be saved and compared against future scans.
Depending on the results of your retinal exam, additional tests may be called for.
How often should people with diabetes get eye exams?
According to the ADA (American Diabetes Association), people with diabetes should have an annual eye exam to screen for diabetic retinopathy and other issues.
Type 1 Diabetes
People with Type 1 diabetes should have a dilated comprehensive eye exam within 5 years of diagnosis.
Type 2 Diabetes
People with Type 2 diabetes need a dilated eye exam as soon as possible after diagnosis. Because Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, by the time you’ve been diagnosed you could already have retinopathy.
Pregnant woman with Diabetes
Should have a dilated eye exam in the first trimester, and follow-up eye exams throughout the pregnancy and postpartum period as recommended by their eye doctor.
High Risk Individuals
Individuals with a high risk of diabetic retinopathy and other eye problems may need more frequent exams. The longer you’ve had diabetes, the greater the risk of complications. Having other health conditions, smoking, or failing to control blood sugar also increases your risk.
Why are diabetic eye exams important?
Diabetic retinopathy is the #1 cause of adult blindness nationwide. It’s a progressive condition, often with no symptoms in the early stages. Early detection and treatment are crucial. There’s no cure for diabetic retinopathy, but it can be treated to slow the progression and prevent blindness.
People with diabetes also have an elevated risk of glaucoma, diabetic macular edema, and cataracts. Managing your diabetes, not smoking, and keeping up with regular eye exams is the best way to preserve your vision and eye health.
Testing for glaucoma
Patients with diabetes have a higher risk of glaucoma, a disease that damages your optic nerve and can cause blindness. Glaucoma develops when fluid in your eye can’t drain properly, causing pressure buildup.
Routine eye exams include eye pressure measurement (tonometry) for patients with or without diabetes.
How long does a diabetic eye exam take?
You should allow about half an hour for an eye exam, possibly longer if there are complicating factors. For most patients, dilating eye drops begin to work within 15 minutes. It can take longer if you’re on medication for glaucoma or another eye disease. Exactly how much time you’ll need depends on your overall health, and what the eye doctor finds when performing the exam.
How much does a diabetic eye exam cost?
The cost of a diabetic eye exam depends on whether you’re having a routine or medical eye exam.
Routine Eye Exam
No eye health concerns
Includes refraction (vision testing)
Includes dilation (retinal exam)
Typically covered by vision insurance
Medical Eye Exam
Chronic or acute eye health concerns
Does not include refraction
May be covered by medical insurance
Cost of a routine eye exam for patients with diabetes
We see many patients who have diabetes, and our regular eye exam includes dilation. Routine eye exams cost the same for patients with or without diabetes. We accept most types of vision insurance, and many plans cover the cost of an annual exam.
Diabetic eye exam: optometrist or an ophthalmologist?
You can get a diabetic eye exam from either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
Optometrist: Eye doctor who provides primary vision care, including eye health examinations and vision testing.
Ophthalmologist: Medical doctor who specializes in eye care, including eye surgery.
Typically, diabetic eye exams cost more when performed by an ophthalmologist.
Wisconsin Vision optometrists can help diagnose, prevent and treat a wide range of eye problems. If specialized medical care becomes necessary, as in advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, we’ll refer you to a qualified ophthalmologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a diabetic eye exam cost?
The cost of a diabetic eye exam depends on if you're receiving a routine eye exam or medical eye exam. Without vision insurance, a regular eye exam at a Wisconsin Vision locations costs $69 . Medical eye exams differ if you're a first-time patient or what your eye doctor finds during the exam. Your health insurance may even cover part or all of a medical eye exam.
What is a diabetic eye exam?
Diabetic eye exams are similar to regular eye exams, with greater emphasis on testing for diabetic retinopathy. Since the retina in your eye can be damaged from higher glucose levels, diabetic patients are at a higher risk for vision loss. Testing the condition of the retina is done through a dilated retinal exam.
Do they dilate your eyes in a diabetic eye exam?
In order to perform the retinal exam, your eyes usually have to be dilated. This is done through special eye drops, which take around 15 minutes to temporarily increase the size of your pupils. This is done so the doctor can have a more clear look at the retina.
Are diabetic patients at risk for glaucoma?
Yes, glaucoma damages your optic nerve, increasing your risk of going blind. Having a routine eye exam to check the pressure of your eyes can help to prevent glaucoma from materializing.
How can I prepare for a diabetic eye exam?
Expect the test to last over an hour. Make note of recent blood sugar levels and any potential eye health concerns or symptoms you've been experiencing. Arrange to be driven home from the appointment, since your vision will remain blurry for a few hours after your pupils are dilated. Get a good night's sleep the night before. Bring any insurance documentation as you would to any eye exam