Diabetes and sight testing

The importance of sight testing in diabetes diagnosis

Optometrist examining patient

14 November 2016 marks World Diabetes Day – when millions of people across the globe will come together to raise awareness of the condition.

As someone who has had a keen interest in diabetic eye disease for over 20 years, the 2016 campaign 'Eyes on Diabetes' has struck a chord with me. The focus this year will be promoting diabetic screening to ensure early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and on the treatments that can help reduce the risk of serious complications.

Naturally, it is the link between diabetes and sight loss that has been the main driver of my professional interest. But diabetes is of course a serious and complex illness which impacts much more than the eyes. Just recently, I’ve seen that Diabetes UK put out figures showing that every week there are 1,400 cases of heart failure and 540 strokes caused by diabetes.

These are shocking statistics and it really drills home the point that people living with diabetes have to manage a set of short and long-term complications in order to stay well day to day. It is a condition that affects so many areas of the body including eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves and feet.

The International Diabetic Foundation (IDF), who coordinates the awareness day, reports that one in two adults with diabetes are undiagnosed. As a sight test may detect signs of underlying health conditions, including diabetes, I feel optometrists have an important part to play – helping people to get that vital early diagnosis. After all many live with type 2 diabetes for a long period of time without being aware of their condition and up to 19% of those newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes already have retinal changes.

Another aspect is encouraging those with diabetes to have regular sight tests. Statistics released in June this year by Onyx Health revealed that over 50% of diabetics have experienced sight-related complications as a result of their condition. The reason behind this is that over time, high levels of glucose can lead to damage to the retina (the seeing part at the back to the eye) – a complication of diabetes known as retinopathy.

With numbers of diagnosis on the rise - diabetes in the UK has increased 60% in 10 years - I’d really like to stress how important regular sight tests for diabetics are. In fact, it applies to everyone – not only can it safeguard your vision but it may also pick up other health conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

For more information on World Diabetes Day 2016, visit the Diabetes UK website.

Gordon IletOptometrist, Gordon Ilett is an AOP Councillor and Managing Director of three community optometric practices.