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How to prevent eye problems when you have diabetes

Diabetes is a leading cause of preventable sight loss in the UK. You can prevent sight loss.

Keep your eyes healthy by taking these steps:


Get your eyes screened

Eye screening is a way of spotting eye problems before you notice any changes to your sight. Serious eye complications is called diabetic retinopathy. And this can be quite advanced before it starts affecting your sight, so getting them screened every year is essential. That way, you can get the right treatment in time.

Everyone living with diabetes and who’s over 12 years old is entitled to an NHS diabetes eye screening once a year (also called retinal screening). It’s one of your 15 Healthcare Essentials and a vital diabetes health check. Eye problems are very rare in children younger than 12 years old, so that’s why they don’t automatically get this check.

Because of coronavirus, some eye screening appointments are postponed. It's a good idea to call ahead to see if your appointments are happening. 

What to expect at your eye screening

You’ll usually see a nurse, who will explain what’s going to happen during the eye test.

The nurse will put drops in your eyes to make your pupils larger, so they can see the retina more clearly. This doesn’t hurt, but the drops may sting a bit and make your vision blurry for a few hours.

Then they’ll take a photo of both eyes – the light of the flash will be bright but it won’t hurt.

Your sight may be blurry for a while after the test, so it’s a good idea to bring someone with you to take you home. And take some sunglasses with you to wear afterwards, as everything will seem very bright. 

Your eye screening results

You’ll get a letter telling you the results within six weeks. 

If the results say you have no retinopathy, you can stick to your yearly screening. If your results say you have background changes, you may be asked to come back sooner for another check. 

If your results say you have proliferative retinopathy or maculopathy, you’ll be seen quickly by the eye specialist team and they’ll talk to you about your treatment options. 

If you’re not sure what the results mean or have any questions about what to do now, speak to your local eye screening service. Make a note of the results and get to know what they mean – it’s important you understand any changes and what you can do to prevent them getting worse.

It’s important to know that this type of eye screening isn’t the same as a regular eye test with an optician. You still need to have your regular eye tests, as they check for lots of other eye problems.

Look out for any changes to your eyesight

You might not have any symptoms of retinopathy before it starts to affect your sight. So it's important to go to your eye screening appointments. 

But some people do notice changes to their vision. These won’t be the same for everyone, but here are some of the early signs:

  • seeing floaters – these look like whispy clouds, floating in and out of your vision
  • dimmer vision – like you’re wearing sunglasses all the time
  • struggling to see when it’s dark.

If you notice any changes, or you’re struggling to see as clearly as normal, make an appointment with your doctor straight away. Don’t wait until your next screening. 

Your eyesight can also go a bit blurry if your blood sugar goes higher than usual, even for a short time. This is normal and is a symptom of high blood sugars. Get your sugar levels back to your target level and when they’ve settled, your vision should go back to normal.

Know your blood sugar levels

Consistently high blood sugar levels make you more at risk of diabetes complications, including serious eye problems. 

Knowing what your target levels are and regularly checking your blood sugars can help you keep on top of them. This means checking your blood sugar levels at home and getting a doctor to check your HbA1c levels regularly too.

Your healthcare team should help you set your targets. The closer you get, the lower your risk of developing eye problems.

If you’re finding it difficult to keep your blood sugar levels to your target range, speak to your healthcare team for advice. Or you can call our helpline for more information and support.

Keep on top of your cholesterol and blood pressure

High blood pressure and a lot of fat in your blood (called cholesterol) will increase your chances of getting eye problems. This is because your blood vessels can get damaged or blocked, so the blood can’t move around your eye properly.

We have advice and information to help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol. Your healthcare team will also be able to support you with this.

Eat a healthy diet, get more active and give up smoking

We know all these things are good for us – but it’s especially important for you as it helps keep your blood sugars in your target range. But why does being healthy make a difference? Well, there’s lots of evidence that shows eating certain foods can help with blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. And that’s what you need to help reduce your risk of complications.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for everyone. Start small and build up – we have lots of information and support to help you make these positive lifestyle changes. Being healthy will make a real difference to preventing eye damage.

If you develop eye problems

If you do start to develop eye problems, your healthcare team can support you and talk to you about your treatment options.

You can prevent them from getting worse if they’re spotted early enough.

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