Screening for diabetic macular edema: How often?

Regular screening for diabetic macular edema is key to preventing vision loss.

Diabetic macular edema is a complication of diabetes that can cause vision loss. This serious eye problem can happen with no symptoms. If you have diabetes, it's important to schedule regular eye exams to check for diabetic macular edema and help protect your eyesight.

A comprehensive eye exam can check for swelling, called edema, in the macula at the back of your eye. The macula is a part of the eye that is essential to your central vision and allows you to see in fine detail.

How often should your eyes be screened?

If you have type 2 diabetes, your health care provider may recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam immediately after diagnosis. If you have type 1 diabetes, it's recommended that you have an eye exam within 5 years of diagnosis.

In either case, you'll need to schedule regular eye exams every year after your initial eye exam to look for signs of damage from diabetes. Simply having your eye prescription tested isn't enough. Your provider might recommend more-frequent exams if there's already some damage in your retina, called retinopathy.

If you're pregnant, your provider also may recommend an eye exam during your first trimester, with follow-up exams throughout pregnancy and for one year after delivery. That's because blood sugar levels can spike during pregnancy and affect the eyes. For most women, this is temporary and goes away soon after delivery.

What to expect during your eye exam

A comprehensive eye exam is done by an eye care provider who specializes in treating disorders of the eyes. This may be an ophthalmologist or optometrist. This exam includes several tests:

  • Vision check. Part of a vision check includes reading an eye chart. You'll also have your pupils, eye movements, and side, or peripheral, vision checked.
  • Tonometry. Your eye doctor will measure the pressure in your eyes. High pressure can cause you to lose vision from damage to the optic nerve, a condition known as glaucoma.
  • Retinal exam. A dilated eye exam can help your eye doctor get a good look at your retina. Your doctor will place drops in your eyes to open up, or dilate, your pupils and make them larger. This allows a full view of the back of your eyes, which can help your doctor check for diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and other eye problems. Your eye doctor also may offer retinal screening photography with or without dilation.

Don't wait for your annual eye exam if you have blurry vision, feel pressure in your eyes or have trouble seeing at any distance. Contact your eye doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. Early detection and treatment of diabetic macular edema can help prevent vision loss.

Feb. 28, 2023 See more In-depth