Diabetic retinopathy, or vision degradation due to diabetes, is a common cause of vision loss. Anyone who has diabetes should have a comprehensive, dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist shortly after being diagnosed and at least once a year after that, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). People with type 1 diabetes should have an exam within three to five years after onset of the disease.
The ADA recommends more frequent eye exams for people who have diabetic retinopathy that is progressing.
The Key is Early Detection
Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can help prevent vision loss.
Early detection is crucial because laser treatment that begins when the patient still has severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy—before the disease reaches the more severe state of proliferative diabetic retinopathy—is associated with a 50% reduction in the risk of severe vision loss and need for surgery.
Who needs a diabetic retinopathy exam? According to the ADA:
People with type 1 diabetes who are age 10 and older should have an eye exam within 3 to 5 years after diabetes is diagnosed and then every year. If you are at low risk for vision problems, your doctor may consider follow-up exams every 2 to 3 years.
People with type 2 diabetes should have an exam as soon as diabetes is diagnosed and then every year. If you are at low risk for vision problems, your doctor may consider follow-up exams every 2 to 3 years.
Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who become pregnant should have an exam before becoming pregnant, if possible, and then once during the first 3 months (first trimester) of pregnancy. The eye doctor can decide whether you need further screening for retinopathy during pregnancy based on the results of the first trimester exam.