The Importance of Eye Exams for Diabetics

The Importance of Eye Exams for Diabetics

Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions. In fact, 34.2 million Americans — 10.5% of the population — had diabetes as of 2018. About 90-95% of cases in adults are Type 2. With risk factors that include a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, it’s the most preventable form.

At Omphroy Eye Care in Aiea, Hawaii, experienced ophthalmologist Luis C. Omphroy, MD, provides comprehensive eye care for all his patients, with special eye exams for diabetics.

These exams focus on preventing known eye complications from high blood sugar levels and can help save your sight. If you have diabetes, or if you’re at risk for developing it, here’s why these exams are so important.

Eye anatomy

To understand how diabetes can affect your vision, it helps to know something about the eye’s anatomy. To do that, let’s follow light’s path. 

Ambient light hits the surface of the eye, which is covered with a tough membrane that’s both clear and curved. The clear area lets the light pass through. The curved area (cornea) focuses the light while protecting the eye.

The focused light next moves through a fluid-filled space called the anterior chamber (filled with aqueous humor), through the pupil, and then through a lens that focuses it more finely. Finally, it travels through another fluid-filled chamber (the vitreous), striking the retina at the back of the eye.

The retina converts the focused images into electrical signals, sending them to the brain through the optic nerve. Your brain decodes the signals to create the image you see.

The center of the retina (the macula) registers your clear, central vision. It’s nourished by blood vessels located both in and behind the retina.

The diabetic eye exam

When you come in for a diabetic eye exam, Dr. Omphroy evaluates both your eye health and vision, just as with a regular exam. But he pays special attention to the parts of the eye that diabetes typically damages. 

The exam includes microscopic retina examination with a Haag-Streit slit lamp, retinal and optic nerve analysis using a Maestro optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine, and other tests to examine the blood vessels, nerves, and other structures inside your eyes. 

This allows Dr. Omphroy to diagnose certain diseases long before you develop observable symptoms and to adjust your diabetes regimen as necessary.

What are common diabetic eye health problems?

High blood sugar levels can lead to problems ranging from blurry vision to total blindness, which is why it’s so important to get your eyes checked regularly by a professional. Here are some of the ways diabetes affects the eye.

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR)

Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness, affecting more than one in four American adults living with diabetes.

In the early stages, blood vessels can weaken, bulging or leaking blood into the retina. This may trigger lipid deposits developing on the retina. In the late stages of NPDR, you may experience swelling of the macula, referred to as macular edema, leading to blurred vision.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR)

As the retinopathy progresses, some blood vessels close off, preventing oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from reaching the macula. The result is proliferation of new vessels on the retina’s surface, leading to anything from visual floaters to scar tissue buildup to a detached retina.


Glaucoma is a collection of eye conditions that damage the function of the optic nerve, and is a major cause of lost vision in people over 60. High blood sugar levels increase the pressure inside your eye by interfering with proper drainage, leading to nerve damage.

Many forms of glaucoma, though, have no warning signs until they reach an advanced stage. And once your vision’s gone, you can’t get it back. That’s another reason why regular eye exams are so important.


Cataracts are when the eye’s normally clear lens clouds over with debris. While anyone can get them, and they’re very common as you get older, diabetics often develop them earlier, and they get worse faster.

If you have diabetes and haven’t had your eyes checked in a while, you’re overdue for an exam. It could save your sight. Give our office a call today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Omphroy.

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