If you have diabetes, you should have diabetic eye screening as part of your health management plan.
Whether you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, having regular diabetic eye screening appointments can catch any potential sight problems early.
Which can prevent both children and adults from developing diabetes related sight loss, or diabetic retinopathy.
This article will cover the basics of diabetic eye screening, so you can be informed about managing your health condition.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- Diabetic eye screening is an annual check up for people with diabetes to look for damage to the retina (retinopathy).
- The blood vessels in the retina can be damaged by consistently high blood sugar levels which cause them to swell and leak.
- Catching retinopathy early means it can potentially be reversed with diabetes management and prevented from causing further damage.
- You can manage diabetes and blood sugar levels through healthy lifestyle changes and regular check ups.
What is diabetic eye screening?
Diabetic eye screening is a routine medical checkup for people living with diabetes.
It checks for changes to your eyes that could be caused by diabetic retinopathy, which means disease of the retina.
People with diabetes will be invited by letter to get screened annually, and should make and attend their appointments.
It’s worth noting that if your previous screening was clear, you may be only invited every two years.
Who can have diabetic eye screening?
Diabetic eye screening is available to anyone over the age of 12 who has diabetes – type 1 or type 2.
It is not mandatory to attend your check up, but it is strongly advised in order to spot and treat any irregularities.
Diabetic eye screening is not the same as a regular eye test to check for eyesight and eye conditions.
And you should still attend these when you are invited for an eye test with your optician.
Why is diabetic eye screening important?
Can you imagine losing your sight as a result of your diabetes, knowing it was potentially preventable?
Prevention is the key and any changes to your retina found in your diabetic eye screening may be reversible and treatable.
But they have to be spotted early enough, which is why screening programmes are available and it’s advisable to attend.
If they aren’t picked up (due to missed screening appointments) damage to the eye can develop and cause permanent sight loss.
What happens at a diabetic eye screening?
When you attend your diabetic eye screening appointment, your doctor will ask you questions regarding your condition and your eyesight.
Then they will do a quick eye test before putting eye drops in to dilate your pupils, so they can take the pictures.
The main part of the eye screening involves photos being taken of each eye – specifically the retina.
There will be a flash of light when the picture is taken, but this shouldn’t cause any discomfort.
What is the retina?
The retina is the light sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eyeball.
When we look at things, the images are processed in the retina which sends electrical signals along the optical nerve to the brain.
Essentially, the retina transmits light from the eye to become signals used by the brain which allows us to see.
Which means that if the retina is damaged (through diabetic retinopathy) sight can be affected or even lost altogether.
Does it hurt?
This is a non-invasive process that shouldn’t cause any pain, though the eye drops may sting a little for a few seconds.
And the eye drops can cause your vision to go blurry, which can last for some hours after your appointment.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to bring someone with you who can accompany you home.
You may also find that you are sensitive to light or that things seem much brighter than usual, so sunglasses can be a good idea.
What happens after your screening?
You’ll get your results within six weeks and be able to create a plan based around them.
If you have ‘no retinopathy’ you don’t need to do anything – just keep managing your condition and get screened again when it’s due.
For those with ‘background retinopathy’ you should follow advice to limit eye damage from diabetes and get re-screened in a year.
A result of ‘referable retinopathy’ means that your eyes are damaged and at risk, so need treatment and more frequent screening.
How does diabetes affect the eyes?
Diabetes can affect the eyes due to high blood sugar damaging blood vessels in the retina.
This can cause them to break and leak blood into the eye which affects your vision causing blurry sight and even blindness.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to manage your condition properly so that your eyes are not compromised.
Certain lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking and activity levels can affect your diabetes.
How to look after your eyes with diabetes
To protect your eyes from diabetic retinopathy you must manage your blood sugar levels carefully.
As well as being mindful of your blood pressure and cholesterol – knowing what your target levels are and being aware of any changes.
You should also make healthy lifestyle changes such as increasing activity, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy low sugar diet.
And know the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, including blurry vision, floaters and any other sudden or gradual changes.
Want to know more about diabetes?
What other tests and checkups should diabetics be aware of?
If you have diabetes, managing your condition day to day is really important in order to stay healthy and prevent complications.
Annual diabetes health checkups, including eye screening are a big part of this, which you’ll be invited to have every year.
What are the annual diabetes check ups you should have?
- HbA1c test for average blood sugar levels
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol test
- Blood and urine tests for kidneys
- Review of your weight and BMI
- Diabetic eye screening
- Foot check for nerves or circulation in your feet
- Update and review diabetes management plan
- Up-to-date advice about weight monitoring and diet if applicable
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