Eye doctors Aim to Raise Awareness on World Diabetes Day 14.11.14

Diabetic Eye Disease Leading Cause of Blindness in Ireland with One Person per Week Losing their Sight

Diabetes related eye disease, the leading cause of vision loss among adults of working age (20-65) in industrialised countries and of new blindness among adults in Ireland, is preventable in 90% of cases when detected and treated early, a spokesperson for the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) said today.   

Speaking ahead of World Diabetes Day this Friday (Nov 14), Mr David Keegan, Eye Surgeon at the Mater Hospital and National Clinical Lead for Diabetic Retinopathy said, "The Irish College of Ophthalmologists is sharing information about the different types of diabetic eye disease and reminding people who have diabetes about the importance of getting an annual dilated eye exam to check for sight threatening complications associated with having the condition." 

People who have diabetes are at risk of developing Diabetic Retinopathy, the most common complication of diabetes, and should ensure they have annual eye tests to enable early detection and treatment.  Over 18,000 people in Ireland are estimated to have Diabetic Retinopathy which causes on average one person with diabetes to go blind per week.(1)  

The ICO has welcomed the roll out of Diabetic RetinaScreen, the new government-funded national diabetic retinal screening programme, aimed at preventing sight loss for those with the condition.  The programme aims to reach, over time, an estimated growing population of 190,000 patients aged 12 and older with diabetes in Ireland in need of screening for potential further eye complications. 

By the end of 2014, Diabetic RetinaScreen will have invited over 145,000 people with diabetes to attend free screening (using specialised digital photography) at a local screening centre.  From 2015 onward, annual invitations for diabetic retinopathy screening will be issued to all those who are registered with the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme. It is expected that the population to be screened will increase each year. 

Mr. Keegan said, “The best protection against the progression of Diabetic Retinopathy is good diabetic control, awareness of the risks of developing sight disturbances and participating in the National Diabetic Retina Screening Programme or having regular eye examinations by an eye doctor.  If left untreated a person with diabetic retinopathy could lose their sight altogether or find they develop other eye complications including cataracts or glaucoma. Diabetics need to have their eyes checked at least annually to detect any problems.”

Diabetic Eye Disease 

While the term ‘diabetic eye disease’ is often used, people may be unaware that this reference encompasses a number of diseases and conditions that diabetic patients are more at risk of developing,  that can cause blindness if left untreated. These include:

  • Diabetic Retinopathy  occurs when the small blood vessels in the eye change by swelling, leaking fluid or closing off completely, blocking blood flow from reaching the retina. In its earliest stages, diabetic retinopathy does not have symptoms, but can lead to changes in the eye, such as macular oedema, which is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. Treatment for diabetic retinopathy and many of its related changes include laser surgery, medical injections and vitrectomy surgery in which blood and scar tissue caused by abnormal blood vessels is removed. The risk of developing retinopathy increases with the length of time a person has had diabetes.  About 60 per cent of people with diabetes more than 15 years have some blood vessel damage in their eyes however only a small percentage of those people have serious vision problems. Pregnancy and high blood pressure may worsen the condition in diabetic patients.
  • Cataract occurs when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy, causing vision to become blurry, cloudy or dim. While this happens in many people as they age, those with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts than their peers without diabetes. Mild cataracts may be treated with eyeglasses, but once the cataract is advanced, it will require cataract surgery, in which the natural cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant known as an intraocular lens or IOL.
  • Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve and peripheral vision. The damage to the optic nerve is usually caused by elevated pressure in the eye. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop glaucoma, which rarely has any noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Glaucoma can be treated with medication such as prescription eye drops or with surgery, but will result in blindness if left untreated.

The Eye Doctors of Ireland recommend that those with type 2 diabetes should get a dilated eye exam at the time of diagnosis and every year following. Those with type 1 diabetes should start receiving annual eye exams five years after their initial diagnosis.

Diabetes Ireland Patient Education Event, including Eye Health Information Seminars, takes place Sunday, November 16th, Regency Hotel, Dublin.

Diabetes Ireland is hosting a Patient Education Event entitled ‘Head-to-Toe Management’, a series of talks for people with Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and for children and their parents on Sunday, November 16th from 2pm at the Regency Hotel, Swords Road, Dublin 9.

Mr David Keegan, National Clinical Lead for Diabetic Retinopathy and Eye Surgeon at the Mater Hospital along with Mr Mark Cahill, Eye Surgeon at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, will talk about diabetes and its effect on eye health for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics.   For more information see here

How to make an appointment to see an Eye Doctor

For an appointment to see any medical specialist working in the HSE, including eye doctors, you need to get a referral from your General Practitioner (GP). A GP has knowledge of the specialists in his/her area and can ensure that any important information relating to your medical history is passed to the eye doctor.

While it is advisable to seek a referral from your GP many eye doctors working in the community will give you an appointment directly - you can find contact details for eye doctors at www.eyedoctors.ie 


1. NCBI, the National Sight loss Agency  www.ncbi.ie



Ciara Keenan, Communications Manager, Irish College of Ophthalmologists

Tel: 01 4028535 / 086 369 4427

E: Ciara.keenan@eyedoctors.ie 



14th November 2014