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Diabetic retinopathy is a painless eye disease of the retina caused by diabetes. The retina is the thin film at the back of the eye. It works like a camera to capture information about what you see.
Diabetes can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina. This can lead to changes in your eyesight such as:
When you have diabetic retinopathy, your eyesight gets worse over time if it’s not treated.
Changes that happen over time with diabetic retinopathy Credit: Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in working-age people.
Having a diabetes eye health exam each year helps find diabetic retinopathy early. You may not notice changes to your eyesight until diabetic retinopathy is advanced. This is why it’s important to have a diabetes eye health exam each year.
If there is a problem with your eyes, you may need treatment to slow or prevent the loss of your eyesight.
The diabetes eye health exam is done by an optometrist (a medical professional trained in diagnosing and treating eye conditions) or an ophthalmologist (a doctor trained in surgery and other advanced treatment of eye diseases). You don’t need a referral from your doctor to see an optometrist, but you need one to see an ophthalmologist.
During a diabetes eye health exam, your eyes will be dilated. This is done with eye drops that make your pupils (the black, centre part of the eye) larger. Having your eyes dilated lets your optometrist or ophthalmologist have a clear view of the retina at the back of your eye.
After the exam, you’ll need someone to drive you home. You won’t be able to drive your vehicle for a few hours after your eyes are dilated.
To find an optometrist near you, go to the Alberta Association of Optometrists (www.optometrists.ab.ca) website.
Yes, the diabetes eye health exam is covered by Alberta Health Care. When you book your appointment, you must say that you have diabetes and would like to book a “diabetes eye health exam”.
A regular eye exam takes measurements of your eyes to test how well you see. If your eyesight isn’t perfect, you may get a prescription for lenses to correct it. A regular eye exam isn’t covered by Alberta Health Care if you’re between the ages of 19 and 64.
You should have a diabetes eye health exam once a year or as often as your optometrist or ophthalmologist says you need one. But if you have changes to your eyesight, make an appointment to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist right away.
Remember, you may not notice changes to your eyes or eyesight so it’s important to go for regular diabetes eye health exams.
To lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy:
Not everyone with diabetic retinopathy needs treatment. If you need treatment for diabetic retinopathy, you’ll be referred to an ophthalmologist.
To see this information online and learn more, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/Diabetes-and-Your-Eyes-Care-Instructions.aspx.
For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.
Current as of: September 28, 2020
Author: Diabetes, Obesity & Nutrition Strategic Clinical Network / Neurosciences, Rehabilitation & Vision Strategic Clinical Network
Care instructions may be adapted by your healthcare provider. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, talk with your doctor or appropriate healthcare provider.