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6 Conditions That Are Detectable with a Retinal Camera

The physical exam is often the first line of defense in identifying conditions that point to disease elsewhere in the body. A retinal exam is an excellent example of this—it can reveal problems with the patient’s overall health, not just those related to the eye.

Digital retinal imaging provides an unobstructed view of optic tissues and vessels. Retinal cameras are typically used to conduct diabetic retinal exams, but they can also reveal symptoms of other conditions such as hypertensive retinopathy, retinal tears, papilledema and more.1

Of course, your ability to detect these conditions depends upon the power of your tools. Retinal cameras can vary when it comes to field of view, area of the retina captured, resolution and dilation requirements. The right retinal camera can help you identify vision-threatening conditions like those listed below.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition caused by chronically elevated blood sugar levels that damage blood vessels in the retina. It is a hallmark symptom of either unmanaged or poorly managed diabetes. Depending on the severity and duration of elevated blood sugar levels, diabetic retinopathy can be categorized as:2

  • Nonproliferative: The blood vessels in the retina leak and swell.
  • Proliferative: New blood vessels grow in the retina and may bleed into the vitreous. Patients may have vision loss.
  • End stage: There may be significant or total vision loss and retinal detachment.

Retinal cameras can reveal the following symptoms of diabetic retinopathy:3

  • Dilation or swelling of the retinal veins
  • Vitreous hemorrhage from blood vessels
  • New blood vessels growing on the disc in advanced stages
  • Possible scar tissue in advanced stages
  • Possible retinal detachment in advanced stages

Hypertensive Retinopathy

Hypertensive retinopathy is a side effect of chronic hypertension. It usually occurs after a patient’s blood pressure has remained high for a long period of time.4

Because loss of vision occurs in the end stages of hypertensive retinopathy, it’s important to spot this condition before it progresses.

Symptoms of hypertensive retinopathy include:5

  • Retina having exudates (fatty deposits)
  • Retinal hemorrhage
  • White spots that look like cotton wool (indicating microstrokes)

Retinal Tear and Detachment

A retinal tear occurs when the vitreous separates from the retina and breaks the tissue. It may or may not be accompanied by retinal detachment, which is when the retina moves away from the tissues that supply it with oxygen and nutrients.1

Retinal tears and retinal detachments often indicate an eye injury, though retinal detachment can sometimes be associated with end-stage diabetic retinopathy.

Advanced retinal cameras can help physicians differentiate between the two by providing a clearer view of:6

  • Retina having a gray elevation
  • Folds in the retina where it has detached
  • Twisted and elevated blood vessels


Papilledema, which is the swelling of the optic nerve due to increased pressure in the brain, can point to a number of serious underlying conditions, including:7

  • Tumors in the brain or eye
  • Eye injury
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Stroke
  • Life-threatening hypertension

Patients typically have vision changes that last for just a few seconds and as a result, they may not realize that a more serious problem is present.

To spot papilledema, look for signs of:7

  • Raised, swollen disc with swollen blood vessels
  • Retinal hemorrhage near the disc
  • Twisted, swollen blood vessels

Optic Atrophy

Optic atrophy occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, and it causes a gradual loss of vision.8 Damage caused by optic atrophy can’t be reversed.

The optic nerve transmits impulses to the brain, and various medical conditions can cause it to deteriorate. For example, optic atrophy is linked to brain tumors, cranial arteritis, multiple sclerosis and stroke.

To diagnose optic atrophy, look for:9

  • Narrow arteries but normal veins
  • Disc with clear and sharp margins
  • Disc with a pale white color

Digital Retinal Imaging Can Help Improve Patient Outcomes

Early and accurate diagnosis is vital to ensure patients receive timely treatment. Examining the retina is key in identifying serious health conditions both within the eye and elsewhere in the body. Easy-to-use diagnostic tools such as retinal cameras give you clear insight into a patient’s condition.

Interested in learning more about how retinal cameras can improve patient outcomes? Download our eBook, Your Guide to Performing the Modern-Day Physical Exam, to learn more.


1. Retinal diseases. (2014, November 4). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from

2. Torpy, J. M., MD, & Glass, R. M., MD. (2009, August 22). Retinopathy. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from

3. Mehta, S., MD. (2019, June). Diabetic Retinopathy. Retrieved August 6, 2019 from,

4. Making Sense of Hypertensive Retinopathy. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from

5. Mehta, S., MD. (2019, June). Hypertensive Retinopathy. Retrieved August 6, 2019 from,

6. Mehta, S., MD. (2019, June). Retinal Detachment. Retrieved August 6, 2019 from,

7. Garrity, J., MD. (2019, February). Papilledema. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from

8. Optic Atrophy. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from

9. John A. Moran Center. Clinical Ophthalmology Resource for Education. Optic Atrophy. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from