About diabetic eye screening

What is Diabetic Eye Disease?

Diabetic eye disease is a leading cause of blindness in the UK. Diabetes can affect the blood vessels, causing them to leak in the back of the eye (the retina); this is known as diabetic retinopathy.  Having your eyes screened regularly will help detect any changes caused by diabetes. Even if you feel your vision is fine, it is still important that you attend eye screening. Diabetic eye disease can harm your vision, though you may not experience any symptoms until it is at an advanced stage. All people with diabetes are at some risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. 

Keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fat levels under control will help to reduce the risk of developing retinopathy, but your best protection is having your eyes screened with a digital camera when you are first diagnosed with diabetes – and then every year.

Please remember to get professional advice if you have any problems with your sight such as:

  • Your vision suddenly getting worse, distorted, or losing all or part of your vision
  • Getting blurring that is not temporary or related to a change in blood glucose level
  • Getting a sudden increase in floaters or seeing flashing lights in your vision

Diabetic retinopathy can get worse over time, but the following measures can help to reduce risks of developing sight-threatening disease:

  • Control your blood glucose as effectively as possible
  • Keep your regular screening appointments
  • Have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly.

About your screening visit

People with diabetes aged 12 or older require diabetic eye screening regardless of whether they use insulin, tablets or diet to keep their diabetes under control.  

At the appointment your sight will be checked by completing a short ‘Visual Acuity’ test, which involves the patient reading different sized letters on a standardised chart.

Eye drops are put in the eye to dilate the pupils; these will make the pupils bigger. 

We advised that all patients bring a pair of sunglasses to the appointment as everything will look brighter for a number of hours after screening, due to the effects of the eye drops.

It is very important not to drive for 4 to 6 hours after having the drops in the eyes as the vision will be affected.

A minimum of two photographs are taken of the back of each eye, the camera does not touch the eye. 

The camera will flash as photographs are taken and these are then securely saved and stored for specialist graders to complete the results.

How you will get your diabetic eye screening results

Accredited graders assess the photographs taken at the back of the eye for any signs of diabetic eye disease. Results will be sent to the patient and the patients GP within six weeks of the screening appointment taking place.

Possible screening result outcome:

Patients will receive one of the following outcomes form their screening appointment:

  • Annual Screening
  • Digital Surveillance Screening (more frequent checks, possibly every 3-6 months)
  • Referred for Slit Lamp Biomicroscopy examination
  • Referred to their local hospital for more tests and possible treatment

Digital surveillance screening appointment

Digital surveillance appointments are to monitor any changes found during your annual diabetic eye screening. Photos are taken at set intervals and are checked by specialists. These tests are done in the same way as previous screening appointments.

Slit Lamp assessment

Slit lamp appointments are required if a clear view of the back of the eye was not possible using standard digital photography. 

Eye screening during pregnancy

When you are pregnant your body goes through a lot of changes. These changes can cause diabetes to damage your eyes. All pregnant patients should be screened within their first trimester and then at set intervals during pregnancy.