Campaigning to protect the UK’s eye health

Our eye health is deteriorating. Every day 100 people in the UK start to lose their sight and experts predict this figure will rise over the coming years, despite the fact that half of all sight loss is avoidable. So what can be done? David Cartwright, chairman of National Eye Health Week, explains how the campaign aims to help Britain see better

Good eyesight is an important part of our overall wellbeing and plays a critical role throughout life, from helping us to learn and communicate in childhood to maintaining our independence in old age.

Yet many of us rarely think about the importance of caring for our eyes to prevent losing our sight in the future.

In fact 20 million of us fail to have our eyes checked once every two years, as recommended, and one in ten has never had an eye examination. Yet sight tests are essential health checks.

Not only can they detect common eye conditions, such as glaucoma, before they cause irreversible vision loss, they can also uncover signs of general health problems, including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

The worrying truth is that many of us only go to see our optometrist when we are aware something is wrong and sadly this can mean the damage is already done.

National Eye Health Week seeks to change this by raising public awareness about the need to take care of your eyes and make sight tests as much a part of your routine healthcare as having dental check-ups or a smear test.

Getting your sight tested is easy – there are qualified optometrists on almost every high street, the appointment lasts around 30 minutes and, for many of us, it’s absolutely free.

More than 30 million people in the UK are eligible for free sight tests paid for by the NHS, and millions more are entitled to tests and prescription eyewear paid for by their employer.

The campaign also aims to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles to benefit their eye health.

Did you know smoking increases your risk of blindness? If you’re a smoker then this is another good reason to kick the habit as current smokers are three times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the UK’s leading cause of blindness, compared with past or non-smokers.

Your weight can also affect your eye health. A body mass index of 30 or more doubles your risk of AMD and significantly increases your chances of developing cataract.

Getting your sight tested is easy – there are qualified optometrists on almost every high street, the appointment lasts around 30 minutes and, for many of us, it’s absolutely free

Early obesity is also associated with diabetes and 60 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy.

Eating a healthy balanced diet may also benefit your eye health. Eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables can help to protect against AMD.

Cold water fish, such as sardines and tuna, are all excellent sources of essential fatty acids, which have been recommended for the avoidance of dry eye, AMD and generally better health.

Protecting your eyes from UV radiation is also vital. According to the World Health Organization, UV damage is the most preventable factor of developing cataracts and around 10 per cent of all skin cancers affect the eyes. The risks associated with UV exposure are cumulative so it’s important to protect your eyes whenever the UV index reaches three or more. UV damage can occur even when its cloudy so everyday UV protection could help you minimise your risk of suffering future sight loss

There are events taking place across the country during National Eye Health Week (September 22 – 28) where you can find out more about the simple things you can do to keep your eyes and vision healthy.

Campaign Diary

For more information about events taking place near you, plus essential eye health tips and a collection of exclusive recipes, you can visit the National Eye Health Week website www.visionmatters.org.uk or follow the campaign on Twitter @MyVisionMatters

Also found in Eye Eye Test Health UK Opinion