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What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Single eye open

Diabetes cases are growing rapidly across the world. In the United States alone, more than 34 million people have diabetes, and a significant percentage of people in the US may have elevated blood sugars without realizing it. Because having diabetes increases the risk of complications such as heart disease, eye disease, and kidney disease - it is important for people with diabetes to meet regularly with healthcare providers.

Because of diabetic retinopathy (DR), one of the routine screening tests recommended for diabetes patients is a yearly eye exam.

DR is a condition that results in damage to the blood vessels that supply the light-sensing area at the back of the eye. DR is a leading cause of blindness in the US and approximately 40% of people with diabetes may have a degree of DR. The good news is that complications from DR are largely preventable with effective management of blood sugars and early eye screening and treatment.

Prolonged uncontrolled (elevated) blood sugars are the biggest risk factor for development of DR. Studies have shown that controlling bloods sugars is effective at preventing DR. Early identification and treatment of DR can help preserve vision and prevent blindness. While people with advanced DR may have symptoms like blurry vision, floating spots in vision, and/or dark areas of vision - many people with early DR have no symptoms.. It's why it's important for people with diabetes to undergo routine eye exams - even if they have no vision-related symptoms.

Ophthalmologists (eye doctors) will often use eye drops that help to dilate (widen) the pupil for better inspection of the retina.

At University of Utah Health Utah Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, with assistance from the Larry H. Miller Driving out Diabetes Initiative, we have made eye exams easier for patients. Our center contains a state-of-the-art camera that captures detailed photos of the retina without requiring dilation.

After their diabetes provider visit, patients are offered the option of having retinal photos taken if they haven't had an eye exam in the last 12 months - saving a separate visit to the Ophthalmologist. A retinal specialist at the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center evaluates the photos — results and follow up recommendations are then relayed to patients.

We've been able to provide this convenient service for nearly 300 patients over the last several years and would like to help you, too!

Consider scheduling a diabetes visit with us by calling 801-581-7761 or contacting Julie Neuburger at to learn more about scheduling an eye exam.