Overview

Diabetic eye screening is a test to check for a condition called diabetic retinopathy. This is when diabetes causes the small blood vessels in the retina (backs of the eyes) to leak or become blocked.

This screening test is offered to people aged 12 and over with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic eye screening only looks for retinopathy. It’s important to go for regular eye tests with your optician too.

Diabetic eye screening has resumed in Scotland. However, it will take some time to fully restore the service and there are a number of new measures in place to keep you and our staff safe.

While you’re waiting for your appointment, it’s important to be symptom aware. Phone your optician if you have diabetes and notice any changes to your sight.

Signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic eye screening during coronavirus

Your next screening appointment

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition caused when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina. This can happen if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause serious damage to your eyesight or blindness.

There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy so you may not realise that you have it.

Who might develop diabetic retinopathy

If you have diabetes, there are a number of factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, including:

  • the length of time you've had diabetes
  • a high blood glucose level
  • high blood pressure

More about the causes of diabetic retinopathy

Reducing the chances of diabetic retinopathy

You can reduce the chance of developing diabetic retinopathy by:

  • controlling your blood glucose levels
  • getting your blood pressure checked regularly
  • speaking to your optician if you've got a problem with your sight
  • taking your medication as prescribed
  • attending your diabetic eye screening appointments

Who'll be screened

In Scotland, diabetic eye screening is offered to people aged 12 and over with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

What happens at your appointment

A health professional will take photographs of the backs of your eyes to find out if you have diabetic retinopathy.

The test usually takes 10 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes if eye drops are used.

Your screening invitation

The test is done at different locations across Scotland. You might have the test at your GP practice or optician.

Where you have the test will depend on where you live. Your health board will write to you to tell you where and when your test will be.

When you get your invitation, read the information carefully and decide whether you want to take the test.

If the date or time on the letter doesn't suit you, please phone the number on the letter to make a new appointment.

Due to physical distancing measures, go to your appointment alone unless you need help from a carer or family member. If you'd like to arrange for an interpreter, phone the number on the letter to arrange this before your appointment.

Your screening appointment

How often you're screened will depend on your last 2 screening results.

If your last 2 screening results showed any signs of retinopathy, you'll continue to be screened every year or every 6 months.

If your last 2 screening tests found no retinopathy, you'll usually only need to be screened every 2 years, rather than every year.

This is because you are at low risk of sight loss.

This decision has been made by the UK National Screening Committee following scientific evidence which tells us that people at low risk of sight loss can be safely screened every 2 years.

If you’ve only been screened once before, you'll be screened every year. You'll usually be moved over to 2-yearly screening if you receive 2 screening results where no retinopathy is found.

When will my next appointment be?

The diabetic eye screening programme was paused in 2020 due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The programme has resumed but the pause, together with physical distancing measures now required in clinics, means the programme is currently running behind for people at low risk of sight loss.

There are currently no delays for people at high risk.

You'll receive a letter inviting you for your next appointment. Please be patient as we’re working hard to get invitations sent out.

If you would like to speak to someone about when your next appointment will be, contact your local diabetic eye screening service.

Benefits and risks

As with any test, there are benefits and risks involved in diabetic eye screening. It’s important you’re aware of these before accepting a screening invitation.

Benefits

Screening is an important part of your NHS diabetic care. It can find changes to your retina before you have any symptoms of sight loss.  

Getting treated early can reduce or prevent sight loss.

Risks

There are no risks from diabetic eye screening.

However, you may be given eye drops to get a good photo and there can be some side effects. If they're used:

  • your eyes may sting briefly
  • your eyes may become sensitive to bright light for a short time - you may want to bring sunglasses to wear after the test
  • you can have blurred vision for several hours - you should arrange another way to get home after your appointment as you should not drive for a few hours after you have them.

Diabetic eye screening is the best way to prevent sight loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Taking the test

Diabetic eye screening involves taking photos of your retinas (backs of your eyes) and examining them for changes.

Your appointment will usually take no more than 30 minutes.

Preparing for your appointment

You may be phoned to be given specific instructions before your appointment and we may ask you to:

  • arrive as close to the appointment time as possible
  • wear a face covering during your appointment, in line with national guidance
  • wait outside the building, sometimes at a specific door and always keeping distance from other people

If you're invited to wait inside, we'll follow government guidance and make sure everyone is spaced apart from each other.

Remember:

  • to bring all the glasses and contact lenses you wear, along with lens solution for contact lenses
  • you may be given eye drops to get a good photo so bring sunglasses with you in case the drops make your eyes feel sensitive
  • to think about how you’ll get home after your appointment if you need to have eye drops which can affect your vision
  • you should not drive for a few hours after you have them

What happens at your DRS appointment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOyUAzjJQS8)

Watch a short video and find out more about what measures have been put in place to ensure your safety during coronavirus (COVID-19).

NOTE: The video was filmed before the coronavirus outbreak - safety measures to protect you and NHS staff are now in place.

During your appointment

Before the test, a health professional will check your details and explain the test to you. You'll have an opportunity to ask questions. The person doing your test will:

  • take photographs of the back of your eyes - the camera does not touch your eyes
  • examine the photos carefully for signs of retinopathy

The test usually takes 10 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes if eye drops are used.

Eye tests

Diabetic eye screening only looks for retinopathy. It’s important you go for regular eye tests with your optician too.

Test results

You'll usually get your test results by letter within 4 weeks. If you haven't had your results within 4 weeks, contact your GP practice.

Your GP and hospital diabetes clinic will also get a copy of your test results.

Your results

No retinopathy is found

The first time no retinopathy is found, you’ll usually be invited to go again in 12 months.

From the second time no retinopathy is found, you’ll usually be invited for screening every 2 years.

Minor changes are found

May mean you have some diabetic retinopathy. You’ll usually be invited for screening again in 6 or 12 months so any changes can be monitored.

Changes needing follow-up are found

You may be referred to a special eye clinic for a different scan or to be seen by an eye specialist. You’ll usually get an appointment letter by post.

Unclear result

Sometimes the quality of the photograph isn't good enough and you’ll be invited back for another test.

If you agree, a second appointment will be made for you.

View your results online

If you've registered, you can view your diabetic eye screening test results through My Diabetes My Way.

 

Preventing sight loss from retinopathy and further information

To avoid sight loss from retinopathy:

  • go to all your diabetic eye screening appointments
  • take any medication your GP or diabetes specialist gives you
  • follow a healthy diet and be as physically active as possible
  • if you smoke, get support to help you quit

If you notice any changes to your eyesight, go to your optician straight away. They may arrange an urgent referral for you.

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything or need to change your appointment, phone your screening centre or hospital diabetes clinic

DES leaflets

Public Health Scotland has produced leaflets explaining:

  • why screening is offered and what happens if the test shows changes needing investigation
  • your DES screening appointment during coronavirus.

These leaflets are also available in other languages and in Easy Read and British Sign Language (BSL) and audio format.​

Email phs.otherformats@phs.scot to request other formats.

View all leaflet versions

View more information in BSL and audio formats about your DES appointment during coronavirus