Sight testing and diabetes

Sight testing is a highly important element of diabetes care. This is because people who suffer from this condition are at risk of diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if not treated in time. Screening can help detect the condition early, before you experience any changes in your vision.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the tissues at the back of your eyes are damaged. Over time, high sugar levels in the blood contribute to the blockage of the tiny vessels that nourish the retina, cutting off the blood supply. Whilst the eye attempts to grow new blood vessels, they don’t develop correctly and leak easily. Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include seeing ‘floaters’, which are spots or strings in your vision; blurred vision; impaired colour vision; dark or empty areas in vision; and eventually total loss of vision. The condition can occur in anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

How sight testing can help

Eye screening can help to detect diabetic retinopathy before you experience any impairments in your vision. Treatment can prevent it from getting any worse, potentially saving your sight. If the condition isn’t treated promptly before symptoms start to become noticeable, it can be a lot more difficult to treat. The NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme was introduced for this reason. Currently, everyone aged over 12 who has diabetes is offered screening once every year.

What does sight testing involve?

When you arrive for your diabetic eye screening appointment, the procedure will be fully explained to you. However, if you do have any questions at all, don’t be afraid to ask. The test should last around 30 minutes, during which eye drops will be used to enlarge your pupils, and photographs will be taken of your retina. Whilst the camera won’t touch your eye during the examination, you will experience a bright flash of light when the photos are taken. The eye drops might cause a slight stinging sensation, and you can expect your vision to become blurred after about 15 minutes.

After the test

Depending on the eye drops used during your sight test, blurred vision may last between two and six hours. For this reason, you won’t be able to drive yourself home from your appointment. It’s recommended that you bring someone with you to assist you. Many people find that everything appears very bright after the screening so you may want to take sunglasses to wear afterward.

It’s not always possible to prevent diabetic retinopathy, however, annual eye screening and regular eye tests can help prevent vision loss. It’s also essential that you maintain good control of your blood sugar levels, as well as your blood pressure.

If you have diabetes and are worried about your eyes, don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Gurjeet Jutley, a Consultant Ophthalmic surgeon at the Oxford University Hospital. He diagnoses and manages all types of general eye conditions and can provide expert advice and treatment to meet your needs.