Diabetic eye screening

If you have diabetes, you’re at risk of diabetic retinopathy. This is an eye condition where diabetes damages the small blood vessels in your retina. This can affect your eyesight. Eye screening for retinopathy can detect changes to your retina. Diabetic retinopathy is a treatable condition when detected early.

Diabetic retinopathy

To read about the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, go to:

Diabetic eye screening programme

If you’re aged 12 years or over and registered with a GP as having diabetes, you should have your eyes screened every year. There is a Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (DESP) in Northern Ireland. The programme will invite you to eye screening every year. You can contact the screening office to change the date or time of your appointment.

You don’t need screening for diabetic retinopathy if you have no light perception in both eyes.

Diabetic maculopathy

Screening also detects diabetic maculopathy, an eye condition that affects your central vision. To read about diabetic maculopathy, go to:

How diabetic eye screening helps

You need to go for screening whether you see a GP or hospital consultant about your diabetes. Eye screening is part of your diabetes healthcare.

Diabetic eye screening can detect early changes to your retina before you notice any difference in your eyesight. When the condition is detected early, you can get treatment to reduce or prevent damage to your sight.

Going to an optician or eye clinic about another condition

A routine eyesight test by an optician doesn’t detect diabetic retinopathy. You still need screening for this condition if you have diabetes.

If you already have an eye condition and go to an eye clinic, you still need screening for diabetic retinopathy.

Preparing for diabetic eye screening

When you’re going to your screening appointment:

  • bring your glasses or contact lenses and lens solution
  • bring sunglasses in case your eyes feel sensitive after the eye drops

What happens during diabetic eye screening

You go for diabetic eye screening in your GP practice, at a hospital or at a clinic. They use a camera to take photographs of your eyes. The test takes about 15 minutes.

If you’re aged over 50, you might need eye drops to dilate your pupils. Some people aged under 50 also need eye drops. This helps the screening clinic take good quality photographs. The eye drops take around 15 minutes to work, therefore your visit will take slightly longer.

Eye drops could affect your vision for a few hours, so you shouldn’t drive home after screening. You shouldn’t operate any machinery until your vision is back to normal.

What screening results can show

An eye specialist is responsible for checking your screening photographs. The photographs can show:

  • you don’t have any signs of retinopathy or maculopathy
  • you have early signs of retinopathy or maculopathy
  • you need a follow-up appointment to decide if you need treatment
  • you need to have more frequent checks

The screening service might need to take more photographs or see you in a special clinic if your original photographs aren’t clear.

Diabetic eye screening results

You should receive your results within three weeks of screening. The eye screening clinic sends your results by letter to:

If you go to a diabetes clinic or another eye clinic in a hospital, the consultant providing your care will also get a copy of your results.

When screening results are normal

Most people have a normal result. It’s still important to have your eyes screened every year. You will get an invitation to screening every year unless you opt out.

When screening detects diabetic retinopathy

Depending on the level of diabetic retinopathy and any sight loss, the screening programme might refer you to an eye clinic for more tests and treatment.

Treating diabetic retinopathy

Laser treatment is effective at preventing sight loss in most people. This treatment can:

  • stabilise the changes in your eyes caused by diabetes
  • stop your vision getting worse

Laser treatment doesn’t usually improve your eyesight. The eye specialist at the clinic can explain the advantages of getting laser treatment.

Reducing the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy

To lower the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, it’s important to control your:

  • blood pressure
  • blood sugar levels
  • cholesterol levels

You need to know your target levels for your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. If you don’t know your target levels, ask your GP or the health professional responsible for your diabetes care.

You might need to make changes to your diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. Some people also need to take medication for their diabetes.

Opting out of diabetic eye screening

If you don’t want diabetic eye screening, you should speak to your GP or diabetic consultant. To opt out of screening, contact the Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (DESP) office, they will send you the necessary paperwork which you will need to sign and return. Without your signed permission, the programme will continue to invite you every year.

When you opt out, the DESP won’t invite you to screening for the next three years. You can opt-in again at any time by contacting the screening programme office.

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