My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 2 years old. At that young age, I couldn’t imagine him identifying letters and having an eye exam so young but when you have type 1 diabetes, you also must take good care of your eyes. This means that even at 2, we headed in to see an ophthalmologist to get a baseline of his eye health.
When should you get an eye exam with diabetes?
As was my son’s case, you should always get a baseline of your eye health done as soon as you are diagnosed with diabetes no matter what your age. It doesn’t matter if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it is vital that you get your eyes examined on a yearly basis.
When my son was small, our annual eye exam consisted of him looking at boats and identifying other objects. It also included the dreaded pupil dilation to check for small vessel damage. How often you have your pupils dilated seems to depend on your eye doctor. It is recommended by most that it be an annual affair whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Who can do your eye exam?
You can have your eyes examined by either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. The most important part is that you want someone who will do a thorough examination and dilation of your eyes. In Canada, if you have your doctor refer you to an ophthalmologist, your visit is usually covered by your provincial health care program. This isn’t the case if you go to an optometrist.
Why bother having an annual eye exam?
High blood sugars can harm the small vessels of the eye and create vision problems. Good glucose control does not, however, guarantee that you can’t have sight issues.
Since people with diabetes are more likely to have
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
- Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)
- And of course, Diabetic Retinopathy
It is vital that they have a regular eye exam.
What happens if I have retinopathy?
Again, early detection is key as treatment is much more likely to be successful at an early stage. According to the Canadian Association of Optometrist, early-stage diabetic retinopathy is monitored through eye health examinations. If necessary, it may be treated with intraocular injections of anti-VEGF therapy (Lucentis, Avastin) or laser therapy. A bright beam of light is focused on the retina, causing a laser burn that seals off leaking blood vessels. In other cases, retinal surgery may be necessary.
Things to remember
You don’t have to have poor control to develop retinopathy or other complications so make sure that you do schedule regular eye checkups for yourself or your loved one with diabetes.
If your blood glucose is high or low at the time of your eye exam, it will impact your vision. More than once, we went to an appointment and my son had a hard time reading any of the letters on the wall. When he pulled out his glucometer, sure enough, he was high! Make sure that your clinician does not write you out a prescription for glasses when out of range. Come back another time to get a true gauge of your proper eyesight.