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Epidemiology of visual impairment, sight-threatening or treatment-requiring diabetic eye disease in children and young people in the UK: findings from DECS


Background We investigated the incidence and causes of sight-threatening diabetes-related eye disease in children living with diabetes in the UK, to inform the national eye screening programme and enable monitoring of trends.

Methods We undertook a prospective active national surveillance via the British Ophthalmic Surveillance Unit. Eligible cases were children aged 18 years or younger, with type 1 or 2 diabetes, newly diagnosed between January 2015 and February 2017 with sight-threatening diabetic eye disease.

Results Eight children were reported. The annual incidence of all sight-threatening diabetes-related eye disease requiring referral to an ophthalmologist among children living with diabetes (n=8) in the UK was 1.21 per 10 000 person-years (95% CI 0.52 to 2.39) and was largely attributable to cataract (n=5) 0.76 per 10 000 person-years (95% CI 0.25 to 1.77). The incidence of sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy (n=3) among those eligible for screening (12 to 18 year-olds living with diabetes) was 1.18 per 10 000 person-years (95% CI 0.24 to 3.46). No subjects eligible for certification as visually impaired or blind were reported.

Conclusions Secondary prevention of visual disability due to retinopathy is currently the sole purpose of national eye screening programmes globally. However, the rarity of treatment-requiring retinopathy in children/young people living with diabetes, alongside growing concerns about suboptimal screening uptake, merit new consideration of the utility of screening for primary prevention of diabetes-related morbidity by using the screening event and findings as a catalyst for better diabetes self-management.

  • Child health (paediatrics)
  • Lens and zonules
  • Epidemiology
  • Diagnostic tests/Investigation
  • Public health
  • Vision

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