Your optometrist has many different diagnostic tools they use during an eye exam. One of these tools is called a retinal scan, but how does this instrument work? 

What is a retinal scan? Continue reading to learn more about this tool, including what it is, how it works, and what diseases it can help identify. 

What is a Retinal Scan? 

A retinal scan takes several photos of the back of your eye, visualizing your retina, optic disc, and blood vessels. Optometrists typically use a device called an ophthalmoscope to look at the back of the eye. 

Your eye doctor can use a retinal scan to identify eye diseases that aren’t visibly noticeable. Your optometrist can save these images for monitoring a condition’s progression or how your healing process is going.

What Can a Retinal Scan Help Diagnose? 

A retinal scan can help your optometrist diagnose several eye conditions that can significantly affect your vision. Some of these conditions are difficult to diagnose without a detailed look into the structures of your eye. 

Your optometrist can diagnose the following conditions with a retinal scan: 

Diabetic Retinopathy 

Diabetes can be difficult to manage, and your blood sugar levels can impact your vision. The blood vessels in your eyes can become damaged, leading to diabetic retinopathy. This disease has two forms: 

  • Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy: This stage occurs when the blood vessels in the retina are weakened, leading to microaneurysms; these bulges can cause fluid to leak into the retina
  • Proliferative diabetic retinopathy: This is the advanced stage of this condition where there is decreased circulation to the retina tissue, causing new fragile blood vessels to develop; these vessels can break & leak blood into the eye or cause sudden vision loss

There is a risk of diabetic macular edema at both stages of diabetic retinopathy. This condition causes the swelling of the retinal tissue, which obscures the macula. The macula is responsible for your central vision, and it can significantly impact your eyesight if damaged. 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that damages your central vision. You lose your central vision while your peripheral vision remains unaffected. 

AMD occurs when aging begins to damage your macula. This part of the eye is responsible for your forward vision. There are 2 forms of AMD: 

  • Dry AMD: This is a condition where your vision blurs as your macula thins
  • Wet AMD: This is a condition where abnormal blood vessels leak fluid & blood into the macula

Dry AMD is a chronic and progressive condition, while wet AMD is a medical emergency. This disease doesn’t cause complete blindness, but you can lose your ability to recognize faces and drive. You can protect your vision by seeing your optometrist regularly


Glaucoma is a progressive group of diseases that can damage your optic nerve. An estimated 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and this condition is common in older adults over 60. 

Glaucoma can lead to permanent, severe vision loss if not treated early enough. Unfortunately, this disease can develop with little to no symptoms until your vision is affected. A common sign of glaucoma is an increase in your eye pressure, but this isn’t the case for every form of this disease. 

Some common types of glaucoma include: 

Glaucoma typically progresses slowly, but conditions like closed-angle glaucoma are a medical emergency requiring immediate care. Regular eye exams are crucial to help catch glaucoma before it can affect your vision. 

A retinal scan can help your optometrist catch these diseases before they can negatively affect your eye health. What should you expect during your retinal scan? 

What Should You Expect During a Retinal Scan? 

During your retinal scan, you’ll place your chin and forehead on a support to help keep your head steady. Your eyes will stay as wide as possible while you stare ahead at an object. A laser scans your eye during this time, and the images upload onto a computer for your optometrist’s evaluation. 

This test is quick, taking around 5 minutes to complete.

What Happens After? 

The images of your eye should be ready for viewing, and your optometrist can speak with you about what they saw. If they notice any eye conditions, your eye doctor can recommend a customized treatment plan to help meet your ocular needs. 

Protect Your Ocular Health 

You can help protect your ocular health with a retinal scan. Your optometrist can conduct this scan as part of a comprehensive annual eye physical. Medical optometrists who have additional, advanced diagnostic capabilities can offer a more thorough examination and suite of imaging tests. 

These assessments are critical to establishing a baseline of your ocular health and should be repeated annually to evaluate any changes and catch vision-threatening conditions before they start. If you need an examination, contact your eye doctor today