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Can an Eye Exam Detect Diabetes?

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A mother and daughter are sitting on a chair with their optician for a regular eye exam

Many eye conditions begin developing with little to no symptoms, making regular eye examinations are integral to maintaining good eye health and diagnosing eye diseases or conditions before they become a problem.

Eye exams aren’t solely for detecting problems related to the eyes. For example, diabetes can actually be detected through an eye exam. For those with diabetes, specific diabetic eye exams are offered as part of disease management.

How Often Should You Get an Eye Exam?

We’ve known for many years that regular eye examinations are crucial for maintaining good overall eye health. The Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) developed a recommended schedule through evidence-based research. It’s worth noting that these are only the minimum recommendations—your optometrist will be familiar with your situation and may recommend more frequent exams if there are any increased risks for ocular issues.

The following is the CAO’s recommended schedule:

  • Birth to 2 years: 1 exam between 6 and 9 months
  • 2 to 5 years: At least 1 exam by age 5
  • 6 to 19 years: Annual examination
  • 20 to 39 years: Examination every 2 to 3 years
  • 40 to 64 years: Examination every 2 years
  • 65 years and older: Annual examination
A male optician is using a sit lamp in examining the eye of a female patient.  It is a key tool in determining the health of your eyes and detecting eye disease

Can an Eye Exam Detect Diabetes?

After dilating your eyes, the optometrist can use a high-powered microscope to view the inside of the eye. This allows them to examine the nerves and blood vessels to determine if you’re dealing with the early stages of diabetes.

If the diabetes is previously undiagnosed, your optometrist will likely recommend you see your family doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, your doctor and optometrist will typically partner with you in creating a management plan.

What Can an Eye Exam Detect?

Diabetes is only one non-eye-related disease that an optometrist can detect through an eye exam. Other conditions or diseases that your eye doctor could find during a comprehensive examination include:

High Blood Pressure

It’s possible to cause minor damage to blood vessels in the eye by sneezing or coughing. When this happens, there’s typically no cause for alarm. But if the eye doctor sees a lot of broken blood vessels during the exam, high blood pressure may be the culprit. And this is especially true if it’s coupled with minor swelling in the eye.

Brain Tumor

There isn’t a magic window in your eye that lets the eye doctor see into your brain. But if a tumour begins growing behind your eyes, it could cause significant swelling, depending on how large it is.

If there’s a tumour pressing on the optic nerve you’ll likely have other symptoms, like loss of vision, double vision, or a change in pupil size (sometimes only on one side).


The eyelids are an integral part of your eye’s function, so the optometrist typically examines them during the eye examination. In doing this, they can detect skin cancer, which is relatively common on the eyelid. Additionally, your eye doctor can also detect beginning-stage melanoma inside the eye tissue.

Thyroid Disorders

Grave’s disease is an immune disorder that affects the thyroid. It causes the overproduction of thyroid hormones, which is called hypothyroidism. One potential effect this condition has on your body is the potential for pressure to build up and cause your eyes to bulge. 

Parkinson’s Disease

Symptoms are used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease because there is no definitive way to test for it. Because of this, the disease is misdiagnosed around 30% of the time. However, researchers have discovered that ocular tremors often accompany Parkinson’s, and tracking these eye movements with special equipment can help detect the disease.

Schedule Your Next Eye Exam

Eye exams are important for more than simply updating your prescription—they can help detect signs of various diseases present as well.

Give us a call or book an appointment online at Advance Eye Care Center

Written by Myles Bokinac

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