Posted on Thursday 12 November 2015
Samantha Mann and Danny Ball.
A diabetes patient who has gone blind in one eye due to diabetic eye disease is sharing his story to highlight the importance of regular eye checks.
Danny Ball, 35, lives in Bermondsey and has Type 1 diabetes. He experienced serious diabetic eye changes that had become too advanced to treat by the time he sought help at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Danny says: “Like many young men, I felt invincible. I thought sight loss was something that happened to other people.
“When I started finding it difficult to read I put it down to my eyes being tired. I failed to get them checked until it was too late. I’m now blind in one eye and almost blind in the other.”
Danny, who plans to undertake a PhD researching why young men fail to engage in healthcare, is sharing his story to help others.
He says: “My sight could have been saved if I’d checked my eyes earlier. It’s crucial to make people aware of the importance of having regular eye check-ups, particularly if they have diabetes.”
Danny’s experience features in a new film – ‘Danny’s Story’ – made by Guy’s and St Thomas’ to promote eye screening and highlight the risk of sight loss for diabetes patients.
Eye experts at Guy’s and St Thomas’ warn that soaring diabetes rates threaten an upsurge in blindness unless patients receive regular eye checks.
Diabetes is one of the main causes of blindness for people of working age in the UK. It affects the small blood vessels in the retina in a complication called diabetic retinopathy (also known as diabetic eye disease). One in four people with diabetes will develop sight-threatening eye changes.
Diabetes is a rapidly growing public health concern, with 3.9 million people living with the condition today compared to 1.4 million in 1996. There has been a 20% increase in the number of patients in the Guy’s and St Thomas’ diabetic eye screening programme since 2009 and eye specialists report a significant rise in the number of diabetes patients at risk of becoming blind unless they receive regular checks.
Samantha Mann, consultant ophthalmologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, says: “With diabetes rates higher than ever before there has been a corresponding increase in the number of patients at serious risk of blindness.
“The damage caused by diabetes to the retina needs to be identified and treated promptly or vision will soon become impaired. This is why we screen the eyes of people with diabetes to detect the early stages of diabetic retinopathy using special digital cameras.
“At Guy’s and St Thomas’ we screen 1,000 people with diabetes each month and detect around 10 patients who need urgent treatment to prevent them going blind.
“We’re worried that up to 20% of diabetes patients who need to be screened aren’t attending check-ups. If people don’t undergo these checks they’re vulnerable to developing sight-threatening complications in their eyes.”
With early detection and treatment, blindness can be prevented in 90% of diabetes-related cases. However, it is estimated that 590,000 people have diabetes but are not diagnosed with the condition and not all patients are receiving the specialist eye checks needed to detect diabetic retinopathy.
Libby Dowling, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, says: “Retinopathy frequently has no symptoms until it is well advanced, so people with diabetes may not be aware of changes to the retina until their vision has already been impaired.
“That’s why it’s so important to attend regular retinal screening, so that any case of retinopathy can be detected early, therefore increasing the chances of receiving the most effective treatment.”
Find out more about the diabetic eye screening service.