People who have diabetes are at risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. By regularly checking our eyes for the early warning signs of this condition, we can prevent losing our sight down the line. That's why LA Health Medical Scheme has launched an exciting new screening programme designed to catch diabetic retinopathy as early as possible.
Catching diabetic retinopathy early on is key to nipping it in the bud and preventing vision loss and blindness. People who have diabetes (type 1 or type 2) are at a risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. This condition may not immediately show symptoms. That's why regular eye screening is so important
That's why LA Health Medical Scheme's new diabetic retinopathy screening programme covers scheme members for a yearly eye screening that detects retinal damage early on.
What is diabetic retinopathy? How does it affect the retina of the eye?
First, it's important to know that persistently high blood sugar levels, which are typical of diabetes, cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body. This damage is more apparent in smaller blood vessels which are more vulnerable - like the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eyes.
Diabetic retinopathy is caused when high blood sugar levels cause damage to these delicate blood vessels behind the eyes over time, ultimately damaging the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that detects the light that comes into the eye and sends signals to the brain about what we are seeing - via a nerve in the back of the eye, called the optic nerve. High blood sugar levels can actually obstruct these tiny vessels and cause them to leak fluid or even to bleed, so causing damage to the retina.
Did you know? Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is key in effectively treating the condition and preventing loss of vision. That is why there is strong evidence for regular eye screening for people who have diabetes.
What are the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy?
It is common for diabetic retinopathy to go unnoticed, because symptoms generally arise when the disease reaches an advanced stage.
Once symptoms emerge, you may notice:
- Blurred vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Vision loss
- Shapes floating in your vision (i.e. floaters)
- Dark or missing patches in your vision
Who is at risk of diabetic retinopathy?
All people who have diabetes (type 1 or type 2) are at risk of diabetic retinopathy. However, the risk of diabetic retinopathy is higher if people:
- Have had diabetes for a long time or have poorly controlled diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Are pregnant
- Are of African ethnic origin
Here is how to minimise your risk of diabetic retinopathy
Managing your diabetes really well, in partnership with your healthcare provider and their team of diabetes support healthcare staff or doctors, is the best way to lower your risk of diabetic retinopathy.
You can reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy - or of it worsening if you are diagnosed with retinopathy by doing all the things that you know are needed to keep your diabetes generally in check.
- Keeping your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthily
- Taking your medicine as prescribed
- Losing excess weight if you're overweight
- Reducing or stopping smoking if you're a smoker.
Also, take responsibility for managing your health as well as you can and:
- Alert your health professional if you notice any changes to your sight or eye health.
- Go for regular diabetic eye screening. This is so important because retinopathy shows real symptoms only when it is at an advanced stage.
- Keep your blood sugar and blood fats (cholesterol) within a healthy range, in partnership with your health professional. Also have a regular HbA1c test at intervals guided by your doctor. HbA1c refers to glycated haemoglobin levels and in a nutshell measures the amount of sugar or glucose in your blood over a two to three month period giving a good sense of your overall blood sugar control
- Checking with your health professional that your blood pressure is not raised.
The screening programme and your cover
As a LA Health Medical Scheme member, you have access to the new diabetic retinopathy screening benefit.This programme entitles you to a yearly screening, paid for from scheme benefits, not from your Medical Savings Account or Above Threshold Benefit, where applicable.
Children and adults who are registered on the Chronic Illness Benefit (CIB) for diabetes type 1 or type 2, on all plan types, have access to this benefit without needing any additional authorisation.
Most members can be screened for diabetic retinopathy by visiting a participating optometrist or doctor, but some members can only be screened by an ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor).
Members who can only be screened by an ophthalmologist are:
- Members younger than 18 years of age
- Members who have symptoms, including:
- Vision loss that cannot be corrected
- Blurred vision
- Floaters (black or grey dots, strings or cobwebs that drift around in your vision)
- Members who are pregnant
- Members with a history of retinal surgery, laser treatment of the retina, or intraocular injections
If you do not have to go to an ophthalmologist based on the criteria above, your optometrist or primary care provider may be equipped to do this screening test for you.
Find a network doctor
You can find an optometrist who is part of our network by logging on to the LA Health website > Medical aid > Hospital and doctor visits > Find a healthcare professional. Search for "Optometrists" in an area conveniently located for
- Select "COVER"
- Deselect "Full network Cover" and choose "Additional/Other Cover" to select "Diabetic Retinopathy Screening".
Access additional cover and support in managing your diabetes
Your cover for diabetes management and treatment starts when you register for the Chronic Illness Benefit. However, you can get even more cover and additional support if you visit a Premier Plus GP and they enrol you on the LA Health Diabetes Care Programme.
Once you join the Diabetes Care Programme, we pay for these additional benefits without using your day-to-day benefits:
- One additional consultation with a dietitian a year
- One consultation with a biokineticist a year
- For qualifying members, access to a diabetes educator
- Note: the diabetic retinopathy screening programme is only available who are registered for the DCC Programme.