Published on 11 June 2014

Diabetic eye screening has been hailed as a major reason for a drop in diabetes-related blindness in working age adults.

Figures from research conducted by the Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology found that hereditary retinal disorders had overtaken diabetic eye disease as the
most common cause of blindness. The study, published in BMJ Open examined the causes of blindness in people aged 16 to 64 in England and Wales.

Researchers looked at the number of people registered as blind in 1999/2000 and compared it with data from 2009/10.

The figures showed that between 1st April 1999 and 31st March 2000 the leading cause of blindness among working adults was diabetic retinopathy and maculopathy (17.7%), two of the
long-term complications of diabetes. This was followed by inherited retinal disorders (15.8%) and optic atrophy (10.1%).

Eye problems inherited from family members were found to account for a fifth (20.2%) of all cases in 2009-10 compared to 14.4% for diabetic retinopathy. The research also highlighted that
despite an increase in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes, the rates of blindness caused by diabetic eye disease has not increased.

According to Public Health England, the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme has played a key role in reducing the prevalence of sight loss through the prompt identification and effective
treatment of eye disease caused by diabetes.

Dr Anne Mackie, Director of Programmes for the UK National Screening Committee, part of Public Health England said: "Losing your sight is a deeply traumatic and debilitating
experience. Before the launch of the diabetic eye programme, less than half of the people with diabetes had regular eye screening. Even where they did, the quality of the test varied from one place to another and many developed serious eye problems that could have been prevented.

"2.5 million people are invited for diabetic retinopathy screening every year. Last year more than 74,000 were referred to hospital eye services for further investigation which led to around 4,600
people with diabetes receiving treatment to help prevent sight loss.

"Although the diabetic eye screening programme has made huge improvements in the early identification of diabetic eye disease, sight loss is still an important public health issue and can
affect anyone. Diabetic eye screening does not look for other eye conditions and it is important for all people, whether they have diabetes or not, to visit their optician for regular eye checks to make sure that any issues can be picked up quickly."

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