Diabetic Retinopathy: Why Is It Necessary to Dilate Your Eyes?

Diabetic Retinopathy: Why Is It Necessary to Dilate Your Eyes?

Every diabetic needs to get their eyes dilated once a year to look for diabetic retinopathy. Getting your eyes examined for glasses doesn’t count. Why?

The goal of examining the retina is to detect diabetic retinopathy. Pupillary dilation is the only proper way of examining the retina.  With the pupil properly dilated, your eye doctor can examine the entire retina easily and carefully.  The retina is the inside lining of the eye.  It is the sole tissue in the eye affected by diabetes.

What are we looking for in the eye exam? Basically, we are looking for swelling in the macula and evidence of neovascularization on the retina or other structures of the eye.

Macular edema, or clinically significant macular edema, can blur vision and may need treatment with either laser or intraocular injections such as Avastin® or steroid.  Neovascularization of any of the structures is a clear sign of proliferative diabetic retinopathy.  Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) can lead to blindness.  Evidence of PDR must be treated with pan-retinal photocoagulation (PRP), an intense array of laser burns to your peripheral retina.

If your eye exam has neither evidence of macular edema nor signs of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, you are considered stable.  Depending upon the severity of your disease, you may be asked to return in 6-12 months for re-exam.  Next time, we’ll be looking for the same things.

A last note:  As I have said many times before, you can not tell if you have diabetic retinopathy as your vision may be normal.  Make sure to have regular dilated exams!


Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist

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  • Chris Renner, O.D.
    Posted at 07:12h, 08 December Reply

    Randy, great website, I am enjoying it. Often in a family eyecare practice patients ask why they are being dilated. Admittedly the risk of retinal disease is low for many patients, but I tell them that dilation is part of making sure that we see every structure of the eye clearly to evaluate for eye disease. Sort of like a “cop on the beat, looking for unlocked doors, cracked windows and suspicious characters”. Keep up the great work.

    • Randall V. Wong, M.D.
      Posted at 07:52h, 08 December Reply

      Dr. Renner,

      Thanks so much for your comments. I am glad you are enjoying the site and hope your patients will, too.


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