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Diabetic Retinopathy Detection

Screening Tests for Detection of Diabetic Retinopathy


Updated June 14, 2013

People with diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness in adults. Optometrists and ophthalmologists can detect and diagnose diabetic retinopathy during a dilated eye exam. The following tests can be used to detect and diagnose diabetic retinopathy.

Visual Acuity

Visual acuity is a measure of the clarity and sharpness of your vision. A visual acuity test measures how well you can see letters on an eye chart approximately 20 feet away. By testing your visual acuity, your eye doctor can detect small changes in your vision that may indicate a problem that requires further evaluation.

Dilated Eye Exam

Dilation is a key component of a comprehensive eye examination, as it sometimes leads to the detection and diagnosis of certain eye diseases. During a dilated eye examination, special eye drops are put in your eyes, causing your pupils to open widely. This enables your eye doctor to view the retina and other structures inside your eye. Special lenses are held in front of your eye while the doctor uses a special microscope to view the internal structures.

Fundus Photography

Fundus photography is a highly specialized form of medical imaging used to take photographs of the back of your eye. Digital pictures are taken with a special retina camera and are used to document the health of the optic nerve, vitreous, macula, retina and its blood vessels. These high-resolution images can be viewed easily on a computer monitor to inspect the eye for diabetic retinopathy or to document changes in the retina.

Fluorescein Angiography

Fluorescein angiography is an eye test that uses a special dye and camera to look at blood flow in the retina and choroid. During fluorescein angiography, a special dye is injected into a vein in your arm. High resolution images are taken immediately as the dye passes through the arteries and veins of your retina. This allows your doctor to see if/where blood may be leaking or pooling in the retina.

Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a non-invasive imaging technique used to obtain high resolution images of the retina. An OCT test uses special light to capture cross-sectional images of the retina. OCT is fast becoming the standard of care because it allows doctors to so easily measure and document retinal thickness and potential swelling.

A Note About Gonioscopy

Though not used for the detection or diagnosis of retinopathy, your doctor may also opt for gonioscopy -- a painless examination to view the front part (anterior chamber) of your eye. This test is not invasive or complicated and allows your doctor to view certain angles of the eye to evaluate for evidence of glaucoma, which people with diabetes are at higher risk for. A special mirror (goniolens) is placed lightly onto the surface of your eye, and a narrow beam of bright light is pointed into your eye.


American Optometric Association. Diabetic Retinopathy. AOA, 2006-09.

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