Opticians Could Help by Diagnosing Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious disease that needs careful monitoring, medication and care in order to lower the risk of the grave complications that can occur as a result.  But scientists estimate that up to half of all diabetics are unaware they have the illness and are receiving no medical care whatever.

Now British medical researchers say opticians could help to get medical help for people who are diabetic but do not know it, by offering routine screening to anyone coming for an eye appointment.  The team, atEngland’sDurhamUniversity, found that opticians offering diabetes screening were able to identify a large number of patients who did not know they had diabetes.  The study showed that of 1,000 people who came for an optician’s appointment, 32 were referred to their doctor with possible symptoms of diabetes that needed looking into.


Classic symptoms of diabetes include abnormal thirst and urine production, fatigue, weight loss or gain, numbness, pain or tingling in the hands and feet and eye problems.  Diabetics may also find they are prone to low grade infections such as thrush and that cuts and other injuries take longer to heal than they should.

The idea of screening at medical practices other than primary health care is not a new one.  In the past studies have shown that chiropractors, dentists and other healthcare specialists offering screening have been very helpful in identifying undiagnosed diabetics.

Millions of Americans visit their optician, their dentist and their chiropractor every year, yet they do not routinely visit their doctor, going to him only when they have definite symptoms or are in pain.  This means routine screening by the doctor would not necessarily pick up undiagnosed diabetics, until they had perhaps had the condition for some time.  And when they do visit their doctor, routine screening for diabetes might not be offered, as he would be seeing them in connection with some other disorder.  Undiagnosed diabetes could be very harmful, as uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to severe complications associated with the disease, such as heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, nerve damage and sight loss.

Sight problems associated with diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, the symptoms of which include cloudy or blurry vision, “floaters” in the eye, double vision, and blindness.  Diabetes is also associated with an increased risk of glaucoma, a disease in which fluid pressure within the eyeball damages the retina – the light sensitive “screen” at the back of the eye on which we perceive images.  In both cases it is imperative that diabetics receive early medical attention to decrease the risk of these ailments.

Patients with these symptoms would be more likely to go first to their optician, especially if they were unaware of the link between diabetes and sight problems, giving opticians a greater chance of seeing them than their own doctors.

Dr Jenny Howse, who led the study, said diabetes screening would of coursed incur trouble and expense for opticians who agreed to offer this service, so that a reimbursement system would need to be considered to encourage the service.

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