How To Diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy

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How To Diagnose Diabetic Retinopathy

The retina is the only part of the eye affected by diabetes. Only your eye doctor can diagnose the disease. There may be no symptoms at all.

The retina is the only part of the eye affected by diabetes.  The only way to diagnose diabetic retinopathy is by direct visualization of the retina.  Your eye doctor should be able to dilate your eyes and, by simply looking at your retina, diagnose the disease.  That’s all.

No Symptoms of the Eye Disease

Symptoms are the effects of a disease.  These are what a patient feels, not what a doctor sees.  Complaints of blurry vision, pain, shortness of breath, nervousness…all are types of symptoms.

The disease, diabetic retinopathy, can cause mild blurriness to complete blindness, or nothing at all.  Many patients see perfectly, yet have the disease.  They just don’t know it.

This is the danger of diabetic retinopathy.  Just like high blood pressure, it may cause absolutely no symptoms.

No Diagnostic “Tests”

A normal eye exam does not always include dilation of the pupils.  Every diabetic patient must have the pupils dilated at least annually.  These are the recommendations of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Optometric Association.

Why?  A dilated exam is the only way to examine the retina.  A dilated exam is the only way your doctor  can “see” the characteristic changes of diabetic retinopathy.  There are no diagnostic tests for diabetic retinopathy.

In the absence of symptoms, the diabetic retinopathy can still be diagnosed.  Early detection means preventing loss of vision.

Fluorescein angiography and OCT (optical coherence tomography) are used commonly to study some of the aspects of your retina (i.e. is there retinal swelling?), but neither are necessary for the diagnosis.

The only way to diagnose diabetic retinopathy is for somone to “see” it.

What Does This Mean? Diabetic eye disease can be “silent.” Many people believe that the absence of symptoms means the absence of disease.  Obviously not true.

The patients with whom I have had the most trouble (i.e. they go blind despite my intervention) have had either no symptoms or ignored themselves for an extended period.  Certainly, they never had an eye exam until it was too late.

Sadly, in almost all cases, the blindness could have been prevented if someone had just “looked.”

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