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Diabetes and your eyes

Article from South Manchester Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Service

Diabetes and your eyes

Diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) can affect anyone who has diabetes, whether they are being treated with insulin, tablets or diet only. Generally, people don’t notice any signs of retinopathy until it is well advanced. This is why yearly eye examinations are so important for everyone with diabetes. Early detection is the key to successful treatment.

Retinopathy affects the blood vessels supplying the retina – the inner surface of the eye, which receives the images of things you see and passes them to the brain. Blood vessels can become blocked, leak or grow haphazardly. This affects the way the retina receives images and, if left untreated, can damage your sight.

How can I protect my eyes?

You can reduce the risk of retinopathy by controlling your blood-glucose and blood-pressure levels as well as possible, and by not smoking.

In addition, everyone aged 12 years and over who has diabetes should have regular eye screening to look for any signs of retinopathy.

Remember that diabetic eye screening will carefully check your eyes for signs of retinopathy. It doesn’t detect other eye conditions, so you should continue to visit your own optometrist regularly for a sight test as well. It may be possible to have both at the same time.

What does screening involve?

Photographs of the retina are taken using a special camera. There is a flash of light when a photo is taken but this should not be uncomfortable.

The screener will put drops in your eyes. These may make your vision blurred so you should not drive for a few hours after the screening. Your eyes will be sensitive to bright light for a while, so wearing sunglasses for a few hours may help.

Very rarely, the drops can cause a sudden rise in pressure in the eye. This would happen only if you were at risk of getting this problem at some time anyway.

Following screening, if either eye becomes very painful or red or you get an unusually severe headache, possibly with cloudy vision, then you must seek help straight away. Contact the screener or go to your local hospital Accident and Emergency department.

When do I get the result?

You may get a provisional result at the time of screening. However, to reduce any risk of mistakes, a second person will often re-examine the photos. Your final result will be sent to you in writing, as well as to your GP and the screener.

What does it mean if I am called back immediately?

An eye specialist may need to review and perhaps treat your retinopathy.

The photos may not be clear enough so we may need to arrange a different examination.

Are my photos used in any other way?

Your photos may be used for teaching and research without identifying you. Please tell us if you don’t want them used in this way.

What happens to all the information?

First your GP will send your name and address to the screening service office.

The office will write to you when your screening is due and will pass your details to the screener.

The screener will send the findings to the office, which will write to you with the final result and tell your GP, optometrist and hospital specialist.

To double-check the findings your photos may be examined by a second optometrist from the list of screeners or by an eye specialist. Your GP or specialist may also see the photos and results.

Your photos and the screening results will be stored on computer for at least eight years.

The screening system can only work if your information is shared and stored in this way. Computer systems are a vital part of the screening service. They keep track of when your screening is due. They also help with the sending of letters and in quality control.

You may opt out of having your eyes screened but it would put your eyesight at risk. You should think very carefully about such a choice and discuss it with your GP or the screening service office. Remember that retinopathy is still a major cause of blindness. The screening programme isn’t perfect but it can greatly reduce the risk of losing your eyesight due to diabetes.

Facts about eye screening for people with diabetes

Screening for diabetic eye disease is important – it is an effective way of finding problems at the earliest stage.

Don’t wait till you notice a change in your vision! Diabetic eye disease usually has no symptoms until it is well advanced. By then, treatment may not work. So it is very important to have your eyes screened every year.