Diabetic Eye Screening & Treatment

Why is diabetic eye screening necessary?

Diabetic eye screening is an essential part of diabetic care. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you are at risk for developing diabetic retinopathy - a condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Among Australians between the ages of 20 and 65 years diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness. Diabetic eye screening can detect changes in your eyes at an early stage when loss of vision can be prevented or even improved.

How often should diabetic eye screening be performed?

It has been recommended that all Australians who have been diagnosed with diabetes undergo diabetic eye screening every 1-2 years.

How do you prepare for a diabetic eye screening?

When coming for a diabetic eye screening you must bring your glasses or contact lenses along with the lens solution. You should also bring sunglasses as your eyes may become temporarily sensitive to light following the diabetic eye screening.

What happens during the diabetic eye screening?

During the diabetic screening, you may be given eye drops to dilate your pupils. The drops may cause a stinging sensation and temporary blurring of vision. Once your pupils are sufficiently dilated, detailed photographs of your eyes will be taken. The entire procedure will last no more than 30 minutes.

What precautions should be taken immediately after the diabetic eye screening exam?

After the diabetic eye screening exam, everything will appear bright and you may have to wear sunglasses for a few hours. You should have someone drive you back home after a diabetic eye screening.

What could the results of a diabetic eye screening exam demonstrate?

A diabetic eye screening exam may demonstrate:

  • No signs of diabetic retinopathy
  • Early signs of diabetic retinopathy that would require follow-up treatment
  • Advanced diabetic retinopathy that requires immediate treatment

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

Treatment would depend on the type and severity of the diabetic retinopathy:

  • Early stage diabetic retinopathy: Mild or moderate diabetic retinopathy may not require any specific eye treatment other than close monitoring and strict blood sugar control.
  • Advanced stage diabetic retinopathy: Severe diabetic retinopathy will require prompt treatment. The various options include
    • Focal laser treatment: The laser treatment is focussed on specific areas within the retina to stop or slow down the leakage of blood and fluid into the eye from abnormal blood vessels. The procedure is also known as photocoagulation.
    • Scatter laser treatment: Abnormal blood vessels in regions away from the centre of the retina (macula) are treated with scattered laser burns. The treatment causes shrinkage of the abnormal blood vessels. The procedure is also known as panretinal photocoagulation.
    • Vitrectomy: A very small incision is made in the centre of the eye to remove blood and scar tissue.
    • Injections: Certain medications known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors may be injected into the eye to prevent the growth of abnormal blood vessels.

Of note, after treatment for diabetic retinopathy you must continue to have regular diabetic screening to effectively manage diabetes.