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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Diabetic eye screening

People living with diabetes should have eye screening as part of their essential checks. This is because diabetes can lead to eye damage, called retinopathy. 

Eye screening can help you catch issues early. 

Why is diabetic eye screening important?

Eye screening is important for you regardless of the type of diabetes you have. Having diabetes means you’re more at risk of eye problems and this can lead to sight loss.

But retinopathy doesn’t show any symptoms in the early stage. That is where screening could prevent serious damage to your eyes.

You can spot and treat retinopathy early by having your regular eye screening. This should prevent it from progressing to a stage where it’s more difficult to treat.  

Diabetic retinopathy

Retinopathy is due to high blood sugar levels that damage the seeing part of your eye (called the retina). There are lots of important blood vessels in your eyes. These vessels help supply blood to the retina If these vessels have damage then your retina cannot get the blood it needs. This then results in damage to your eyesight. 

If you don’t get it treated, retinopathy can lead to sight loss. But there are ways you can reduce the risk: 

We’ve got lots more expert information about retinopathy.

“There's so much diabetes everywhere nowadays, it's so important people are aware of all the complications that can happen.” Jaswinder has sight loss due to diabetes. 

What is an eye screening?

Eye screening is a way of spotting eye problems before you notice any changes to your sight. Serious eye complications are called diabetic retinopathy. And this can be quite advanced before you start to notice it. 

Everyone living with diabetes over the age of 12 will get an invite to a regular eye screening. At first the screening will be every year. But depending on your results that could change.

At your eye screening you will look for signs of eye disease caused by your diabetes, usually with a nurse. The aim of your regular eye screening is to catch any issues early on. This way you can get the treatment you need in time.

What happens at a diabetic eye screening?

You will start by having a quick check of your eyes. And then you will begin the main part of the eye screening. This will be when the back of your retina is photographed. 

You’ll get eye drops to make your pupils bigger. These eye drops may sting but the screening as a whole should not be painful. Your eyes will be blurry for about 15 minutes after the drops. You will find this makes it difficult to focus on objects close to you. This can last for up to six hours so you won’t be able to drive home after your appointment. 

You may also find that everything seems brighter than usual. So you may want sunglasses for after the screening. 

You'll have photos taken of each eye and both times there will be a flash of light. Your eye won't be touched by the camera and you shouldn't have any pain during the screening. 

While it’s important to have an eye screening, you can choose not to have it. But we recommend that you do. It's part of your 15 healthcare essentials and could help you avoid serious complications. You're putting yourself at risk if you don't have your regular eye screening. 

Infographic that says that more than 1,700 people have their sight seriously affected by their diabetes every year in the UK. That's more than 30 people every week.

Understanding diabetic eye screening results

You will get a letter with your results from your eye screening within six weeks. When you get them you will see an 'R' followed by a number. The R stands for retinopathy and the number tells you how much damage, if any, has been done.

You might also see an 'M' which stands for maculopathy. This is when fluid builds up in part of your eye. Once again there will be a number which will tell you your result. M0 means there is no reason to worry yet and M1 means that you will need treatment for maculopathy. 

Depending on what your results say, you will have different steps to follow. 

Your results

Your next steps

No retinopathy (R0)

Continue your yearly eye screening

Background changes (R1)

You may be asked to return sooner

Non-proliferative retinopathy (R2)

More regular eye screenings

Proliferative retinopathy (R3)

You will be seen by an eye specialist quickly and taken through your treatment options

You are more likely to reverse any eye damage if you find it early on. That is why going to your annual eye screening is essential. 

Looking after your eyes

Your regular eye screening will help you keep track of how your eyes are doing. And to reduce your risk of serious complications with your eyes there are some  things you can do alongside your eye screening such as:

  • look out for any changes to your sight e.g. floaters, dimmer vision, struggling to see in the dark
  • know your target blood sugar levels
  • keep on top of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • eat a healthy diet
  • be active
  • give up smoking.

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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