Add an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist to Your Diabetes Healthcare Team
An eye specialist such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist should be part of your healthcare team. An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine (MD) who specializes in eye care and eye diseases; an optometrist is an eye doctor with a doctor of optometry degree (OD) who diagnoses vision changes and disease and does sight testing and correction.
Have a comprehensive, dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist when you’re first diagnosed with diabetes. After that, you should get an exam every 1–2 years, depending on your sight and diabetes care.
As a person with diabetes, your eyes are particularly vulnerable to vision changes and damage. That’s because the blood vessels in your eyes can rupture and swell over time. Diabetic eye disease is the number one cause of blindness among working-age adults in the United States.
The great news is that you can prevent or delay blindness (from diabetic retinopathy) with early detection and treatment. The key to early detection is making an appointment with an ophthalmologist or optometrist yearly for an exam. During a dilated eye exam, an eye specialist can diagnose damage in your eyes even though you may not notice any vision problems on your own. Don’t wait until you notice vision changes to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist!
Seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist is especially important for women with preexisting diabetes who become pregnant because eye disease can progress rapidly during pregnancy.
Have a comprehensive eye exam every 1–2 years to check for signs of damage or disease. An optometrist or ophthalmologist does this exam in his office, which is usually separate from your diabetes care provider. However, some primary care offices may have technicians or specialists available to do these eye exams.
As part of the exam, the optometrist or ophthalmologist will dilate your eyes with drops and then use a magnifying glass to look at the retina for signs of damage. Sometimes the blood vessels rupture and leak, causing damage. Oftentimes, you won’t have symptoms such as trouble seeing during the early stages of eye disease. That’s why it’s so important to see an eye specialist every year to detect any damage to your eyes. If your eye exam is completely normal, your eye specialist may recommend an exam every other year.
Your eyes are so important! Don’t neglect this exam even though it may be a chore to schedule or to get there each year. Diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Yet, it can be treated very successfully with injections or lasers if detected early.