The eye is a highly complex organ of the body. Eyes are actively working from the moment you open them in the morning up until you close them at night, relaying hundreds of thousands of messages to the brain throughout the day.
It is easy to neglect your eyes because they rarely hurt when there is a problem. Having an eye test won’t only tell you if you need new glasses or a change of prescription, it is also an important eye health check. An eye test can spot many general health problems and early signs of eye conditions before there are any symptoms, many of which can be treated if found early enough.
Some sight-threatening conditions such as glaucoma have no symptoms and could cause some sight loss before a difference is noticed. Around 50 per cent of sight loss is preventable if detected early enough.
What is the scale of the problem?
Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss. That's approximately one person in thirty.
Sight loss affects people of all ages, but as we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss.
- 1 in 5 people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss.
- 1 in 2 people aged 90 and over are living with sight loss.
- Nearly two-thirds of people living with sight loss are women.
- People from black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of some of the leading causes of sight loss.
- As many as three quarters of people with learning disabilities are estimated to have either refractive error or to be blind or partially sighted.
What can you do?
Research suggests that the following points will make sure your eyes are healthy and your risk of developing an eye condition is as small as possible.
- Regular eye tests: Everyone should have their eyes examined at least once every two years, even if there is no change in your vision. An eye examination can often pick up the first signs of an eye condition before you notice any changes in your vision. This can lead to you getting vital treatment at the right time, which could save your sight.
- Stop smoking: Smoking can double the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration which is the UK's leading cause of sight loss. You can talk to your GP about stopping smoking or find out more from Help me Quit Wales or 0800 085 2219.
- Eat healthily and watch your weight: Eating a diet low in saturated fats and rich in green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, may help protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Oranges, kiwis, nuts, seeds and oily fish may also help prevent and slow down some eye conditions. Taking supplements is not a substitute for a healthy diet. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can increase the risk of developing diabetes, which in turn could lead to sight loss. More information on nutrition and obesity is available at http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/888/page/52135
- Keep your eyes covered in the sun: UVA and UVB rays in sunlight can harm your eyes and may increase the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Wearing sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses with a built in UV filter will protect your eyes. Only buy sunglasses that have a CE mark or carry British Standard BSEN 1836:1997.
- Safety first: DIY causes thousands of eye related injuries each year. Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris and fine particles. Sport, especially racquet-based sports, also causes lots of eye related injuries each year. Investing in a good pair of protective sports goggles will help prevent serious damage to your eyes.
- Rest your eyes regularly: Using a computer screen for long periods of time can be slowly straining your eyes causing them to become tired. Regular breaks from the computer can prevent eye fatigue. Regular blinking also gives the eyes a brief rest and moisturises them stopping them from becoming dry and tired.
- Check your family history: Some eye diseases are hereditary so it is important to know your family’s history of eye health. Those who do have a history of conditions such as glaucoma and age related macular degeneration have a high-risk of developing these at some point so early detection and regular eye checkups are essential. Many of these disorders are age related with a greater chance of your eye health declining the older you get.
What is being done to manage the impact/problem?
The Welsh Government has funded the Welsh Eye Care Service (WECS) to preserve sight through the early detection of eye disease and to give help to those who have low vision and whose sight is unlikely to improve.
There are four strands to the initiative:
Also, the WHO Vision 2020 programme to eliminate preventable blindness by 2020 provides strategic context for service development.
In the UK, stakeholders have developed a UK Vision Strategy inspired by the WHO’s initiative, and the former Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, endorsed the aims of that strategy at its launch. The Department of Health is committed to supporting the aims of the UK Vision Strategy within the context of a locally commissioned service, through guidance on best practice.
The UK Vision Strategy aims to:
- Improve the eye health of the people of the UK
- Eliminate avoidable sight loss and deliver excellent support to those with a visual impairment
- Enhance the inclusion, participation and independence of blind and partially sighted people.
In Wales, an advisory group of professionals working across the public, private and third sector produced the 'Wales Vision Strategy Implementation Plan 2010 to 2014' to coordinate the Welsh response to delivering on the UK Vision Strategy's three priorities:
- Improving eye health
- Eliminating avoidable sight loss and delivering excellent support to people with sight loss
- Inclusion, participation and independence for people with sight loss
More information on optometric public health is available at:
World Health Organization
Eye Care Wales
Your Eye Guide
The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically in the future. As we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss, and the UK population is ageing. In addition, there is a growing incidence in key underlying causes of sight loss, such as obesity and diabetes. This means that, without action, the numbers of people with sight problems in the UK are likely to increase dramatically over the next 25 years.
It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss will rise to over 2,250,000. By 2050, the numbers of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million.
In 2008 sight loss cost at least £6.5 billion, and this is likely to increase as the number of people with sight loss increases. This figure does not include the cost of sight loss in children.
This cost is made up of:
- £2.14 billion in direct health care costs, such as eye clinics, prescriptions and operations.
- £4.34 billion in indirect costs, such as unpaid carer costs and reduced employment rates.