April 09, 2024

Should I Get Retinal Imaging?

Woman getting a retinal imaging scan

If you’ve heard of diagnostic imaging procedures for the eyes, you may wonder, “Should I get retinal imaging?” That’s an important question.

This article explains what retinal imaging is and when/why you might need it.

What Is Retinal Imaging?

Retinal imaging is a painless process that creates detailed, high-resolution digital images of the inside back surface of the eye (the retina or fundus). This includes an area within the retina called the macula, your blood vessels, optic nerve, and related structures.

Eye care specialists perform retinal imaging to diagnose and monitor specific medical conditions. Some problems that retinal imaging can detect can lead to vision loss if not identified and treated.

Images captured in this process can be helpful independently and as the basis for assessing the evolution of an eye’s health over time.

Why Might Retinal Imaging Be Necessary?

One of the reasons that retinal scans are so valuable is that many conditions affecting the eyes are first detectable in the retina. The process can provide doctors with insights into the presence of several conditions, including:

  • Glaucoma (a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve)
  • Macular degeneration (a common age-related condition that adversely affects central vision, meaning things directly in front of you)
  • Diabetes-related macular edema (swelling in the macula)
  • Retinal detachment (a painless but severe condition that can cause blindness)
  • Diabetes-related retinopathy (weakening of retinal blood vessels)
  • Eye cancer (rare cancers that start in the eye)
  • Macular hole (a hole or thickness change in the macula that affects central vision)
  • Retinal vein occlusion (blockage of a vein that carries blood away from the eye, which can cause swelling, pressure, and vision loss)
  • Macular pucker (wrinkling of the retina caused by scar tissue)
  • Posterior uveitis (a condition that causes eye redness, inflammation, and pain)

Your doctor may direct you to have a retinal imaging scan performed if you are at risk of a particular condition (for example, because you have diabetes) or are experiencing symptoms.

How Is Retinal Imaging Performed?

Retinal imaging is a painless, non-invasive procedure with no known risks. The only side effects are temporary vision changes from pupil dilation.

The scan typically occurs as follows:

  1. Your eye care professional puts drops in your eyes to dilate (open) the pupils, allowing for the capture of better images.
  2. You sit in front of the imaging machine.
  3. When instructed, you put your chin on the machine’s chin rest and press your forehead gently against a bar.
  4. If necessary, the provider adjusts your head position slightly and starts taking pictures, one eye at a time.
  5. They may have you focus on a green light in your field of vision. The light is bright, and looking at it may cause minor, temporary discomfort.
  6. When the process is complete, the provider has you sit back in your chair.

Retinal imaging typically takes 10 minutes or less, although it can take longer if your doctor has ordered any special processes.

You will likely experience sensitivity to light and blurred vision temporarily after your procedure. Consequently, you shouldn’t drive, look at screens, or read. You’ll need someone to drive you home from your appointment and sunglasses to protect your eyes until the pupils relax, which can take up to six hours.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Doctor About Retinal Imaging

If your doctor says you should have retinal imaging performed and you want clarification about the goals and process, don’t hesitate to ask. They’ll be happy to provide more details.

You can find a Baptist Health doctor using our online provider directory if you don’t have one.

Learn More.