Diabetic eye screening: what you should know

If you’re living with diabetes there are several tests and checks you should have regularly, one of which is diabetic eye screening. Most people are invited for diabetic eye screening every one or two years, though some may need the test more often.

Diabetic eye screening is a free NHS test for people aged 12 and older who have diabetes – it’s not the same as the eye sight test you get at your opticians to check whether or not you need to wear glasses.

This test checks for signs of a condition called diabetic retinopathy. You can choose whether to have the test or not, but it’s a good idea to accept the appointment because people with diabetes have a higher risk of having problems with their eyes than those who don’t have diabetes. And if these problems aren’t treated, they can cause loss of vision.

Diabetic eye screening checks to see if having diabetes is damaging your sight. If there is a problem, having the test as regularly as recommended can help find it early. This means the problem can be treated, which can stop it from getting any worse.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that affects people who are living with diabetes. It happens when high blood sugar levels affect tiny blood vessels in the eyes, which can damage part of the eye called the retina. According to the NHS, it’s also one of the most common causes of sight loss among people of working age.

Anyone with diabetes – either type 1 or type 2 – is potentially at risk of developing this condition. However, your risk may be higher if you’re affected by one of the following:

  • Persistent high blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • You’ve had diabetes for a long time
  • You’re pregnant
  • You’re of Asian or Afro-Caribbean background

Keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control can help reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. It’s also essential to attend your diabetic eye screening appointments, because if a problem is picked up early, there are things you can do to prevent any further deterioration of your vision.

Screening: what happens?

When your diabetic eye screening appointment is due you’ll receive a letter telling you about the date, time and place of your appointment (or you may be asked to phone up to arrange it). The appointment could be at your GP’s surgery, your local hospital, a local optician’s practice or another nearby clinic.

The appointment itself should last about 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll be given eye drops to make your pupils larger, which helps the doctor or specialist see into your eyes. Once the drops have been given, photographs of your retina will be taken to check the back of your eyes for any signs of disease. Each photograph will trigger a flash of light, but this shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

However, the drops can make everything look very bright and your vision blurry. So it’s a good idea to take someone along with you to help you get home afterwards (you won’t be able to drive yourself home after your appointment). You may want to take a pair of sunglasses with you to wear after the test too.

The results should be sent to you and your GP within three to six weeks. In most cases you won’t have to do anything else, but sometimes you may be asked to go back for another test if the photographs aren’t clear enough to give an accurate result or if you need any follow-up treatment.

To find out more about diabetes and how you can keep your eyes healthy, have a word with your local Careway pharmacist or speak to your GP. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.