Diabetic Eye Health & Retinopathy

Diabetic eye screening is an important check to take extra care of your eyes and your vision. People with diabetes can find that their condition affects their eyes in a number of ways, although not everyone who has diabetes will develop an eye condition.

If you have diabetes it is really important that you have regular eye tests and diabetic eye screenings to ensure that any issues are caught early. Treatment given at the right time can help prevent sight loss, if begun soon enough.

If you have experienced any sudden changes in your vision, contact your optometrist or your GP immediately. If this is not possible, visit your nearest A&E.

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What is Diabetic Eye Screening?

Anyone who has diabetes and is over the age of 12 will be invited to an annual eye screening.

Screening is an effective way of detecting any problems with your eyes before they start to affect your vision.

Screening usually takes around half an hour and examines the back of the eyes by taking photographs of the retina.

First, you will be given eye drops that will enlarge your pupils. It takes around 15 to 20 minutes for the pupils to become large enough.

Then with each photograph there will be a bright flash, but the camera will not come into contact with your eye. Be prepared that it may take several attempts to capture a good photograph.

You may find that the eye drops cause your eyes to sting a little bit and after 15 minutes your vision will be blurred, making it difficult to focus on objects that are near to you.

You should be aware that the blurring of your vision can last several hours, therefore you will be unable to drive after your appointment. If necessary, make sure you bring someone with you to your appointment to take you home.

The photographs taken during your screening will need to be examined in detail, so it is unlikely that you will find out the results on the day. It may take several weeks to receive a letter with the results of your screening.

Diabetic eye screening is a necessary screening test as diabetic retinopathy usually does not cause any symptoms and if left untreated can cause blindness.

What diabetes-related eye conditions are there?

There are several conditions that some people with diabetes will develop, including:

Not all people with diabetes will develop these conditions, but early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to ensure you continue to enjoy the best vision possible in your day-to-day life.

Diabetes and Cataracts

Diabetes can cause cataracts, a condition that causes clouding of the lens of the eye. In some cases this can have a significant effect on vision. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts and at a younger age.

The symptoms of cataracts can include:

  • Cloudy vision
  • Blurry vision
  • Spots in vision
  • Being dazzled by bright lights
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Seeing ‘halos’ around lights
  • Colours becoming faded or yellow

Cataracts can be treated with a routine surgery. This is one of the most commonly performed operations in the UK. During this procedure the lens of the eye is removed and replaced by an artificial one. It can take around 4 – 6 weeks to recover from surgery to remove cataract.

Diabetes and Glaucoma

Diabetes can cause Glaucoma, a condition in which the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain becomes damaged. Glaucoma often has no symptoms, meaning that the only way that it can be diagnosed is by having an eye test. You can read information about glaucoma here.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is the most serious diabetes related eye condition, that occurs when tiny blood vessels at the back of your eye become blocked and leak. If left untreated diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. However it usually takes several years for diabetic retinopathy to reach a stage where it could threaten your sight.

Are you at risk of diabetic retinopathy?

Any person with either Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes has a potential risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

You are at greater risk of developing diabetic retinopathy if you:

  • Have had diabetes for a long period of time
  • Suffer from high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a consistently high blood sugar (blood glucose) level, or
  • Are of Asian or Afro-Caribbean background

Effective management of your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol can help reduce your chance of developing diabetic retinopathy.

What types of diabetic retinopathy are there?

There are three different types of diabetic retinopathy that people experience:

Background Retinopathy

Tiny bulges develop in the blood vessels that supply blood to the retina of the eye. These may bleed slightly but usually do not affect your vision. The symptoms of background retinopathy are normally only visible via a retinal screening check.

Pre-Proliferative Retinopathy

A more severe condition that involves more serious and widespread changes affecting the blood vessels supplying blood to the retina, including more significant bleeding into the eye. It is likely that you will need more frequent screening, every three or six months, to ensure that your eyes are regularly monitored.

Proliferative Retinopathy

The most advanced stage of retinopathy in which new blood vessels and scar tissue have formed on the retina of the eye, which can cause significant bleeding into the eye that can cause retinal detachment.

Treatment is normally offered for diabetic retinopathy when it reaches an advanced stage. Treatment can help try and prevent further damage to your vision, but will not be able to restore any lost vision. Treatments that can be offered include:

  • Laser treatment
  • Eye injections
  • Eye surgery

Diabetic Maculopathy

In some cases of diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels in the macula (the central region of the retina) can leak or become blocked. This is known as diabetic maculopathy.

There is a high risk that your vision may eventually be affected. You may need more frequent specialised testing to monitor your eyes.
You may be referred to a hospital specialist, who will be able to discuss with you treatment options designed to help stop the problem worsening.

If you are diabetic it is important that you take care of your eyes and vision and make sure that you seek help if you notice any changes.

If you would like more information about diabetes and your eye health visit https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-complications/eye-problems.html.

If you have any questions about diabetes and the health of your eyes, you can use our optician finder to locate your nearest KODAK Lens Optician who will be happy to speak with you.

Sources: www.nhs.ukwww.diabetes.co.uk, www.rnib.org.uk/

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