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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Oxford Eye Hospital

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Oxford Diabetic Eye Screening Programme FAQ

What is diabetic retinopathy?

When diabetes affects the small blood vessels in the part of your eye called the retina, this is known as diabetic retinopathy. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy will not affect your sight. However, if the changes get worse, your sight will be affected.

You are at increased risk of developing retinopathy if:

  • you have had diabetes a long time
  • your blood glucose level is poorly controlled
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you are pregnant
  • you are taking insulin.

Screening

What is screening for diabetic retinopathy?

Screening means examining your eyes regularly to detect the specific changes of diabetic retinopathy that could affect your sight. The name for these changes is sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. Screening is an effective way of detecting diabetic retinopathy as early as possible. If we find sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy, we will refer you to an eye specialist.

Why is it important to screen?

Untreated diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness in the working-age population in the UK.

Diabetic retinopathy does not usually affect your sight until the changes are quite advanced.

Diabetic eye disease is quite common; it is estimated that one in four people with diabetes have some signs of diabetic eye disease within five years of being diagnosed. For most people, the changes are minor and do not cause problems with sight. Each year about two in every 100 people with diabetes will develop sight-threatening diabetic eye disease.

There is an effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy which can reduce the loss of sight and it is more effective the earlier it is carried out.

What will happen at the appointment?

The screener will check your details and explain the procedure. Your distance vision (visual acuity) will be checked. Your eyes will then be dilated, using special eye drops that make your pupils large enough to take the photographs. The drops take approximately 15 to 20 minutes to work and afterwards your vision will be slightly blurred for several hours. This will affect your ability to drive for two to four hours.

The screener will take at least two photographs of the back of each eye (the retina). The camera does not come into contact with your eyes. You will see a flash of bright light each time a photograph is taken.

What do I need to bring with me?

Please bring your usual distance spectacles. It may also be useful to have sunglasses to wear after screening, as it will appear very bright after having your eyes dilated.

I regularly visit my optician. Is this test the same?

Although we might use similar technology to your optician, your annual diabetic eye screening test is a specific check for diabetic changes and is part of a national NHS programme.

We use the results to make sure you are being checked at appropriate intervals, and we send results to you personally and your GP surgery.

I had eye photographs taken during my normal sight test. Do I still need to attend for eye screening?

Yes, you would still need to attend for eye screening. Most high street optometrists offer retinal photography as part of a routine eye test; this is not the same as eye screening.

I only have 'borderline' diabetes. Is this appointment really necessary?

Some of our patients don't require tablets or injections for their diabetes. Not all of our patients feel unwell because of diabetes. Nevertheless, this simple eye check is important for anyone who is registered as diabetic, because it allows us to check that your blood vessels are healthy and not affected by any changes in blood glucose levels.

What if I'm too busy with work to make any of the appointments you offer?

Call our administration team on the contacts page and we can discuss a time you can do, including our occasional Saturday clinics at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Administration Team: 01865 231586

What happens after my appointment?

All the images are sent to ODESP and checked by trained staff for any signs of diabetic retinopathy. Approximately three to six weeks after your appointment both you and your GP will receive the results of your eye screening.

Most people are then invited to attend screening the following year

Does screening for diabetic retinopathy work?

Here are six good reasons for diabetic eye screening from the UK National Screening Committee.

  • Sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy is an important public health problem. It is the most common cause of blindness in people of working age in England and Wales
  • The global epidemic of diabetes (especially type 2) means that diabetic retinopathy will continue to be a public health problem
  • Diabetic retinopathy can be diagnosed at an early stage in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Laser treatment is an effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy, whilst there is also evidence that diabetic retinopathy can be prevented or the rate of deterioration slowed through better blood glucose and blood pressure control
  • There is a suitable and reliable screening test available
  • Screening and treatment are a cost-effective use of resources

Results

I've been told I have background retinopathy. Should I be worried?

Background retinopathy is not unusual and does not require monitoring more than once a year. Background diabetic retinopathy does not have symptoms, so you won’t notice any changes in vision.

Speak to your diabetic nurse or GP about improved blood glucose control if you are aware this is an issue for you. If you would like to discuss your results with a member of our team, call the administration office and ask to discuss your results with one of our graders.

Further tests

Why have I been invited for a further appointment?

Sometimes the screener may not have been able to get good photographs of your eyes; in this case you will be referred to a Slitlamp Biomicroscopy Clinic for further assessment.

If your screening test results show diabetic retinopathy that may cause vision loss in the future, you may be invited to the Digital Surveillance Clinic or a clinic in Ophthalmology.