Missed eye exams risk “surge in avoidable sight loss”

The charity Eye Health UK has today (21 September 2020) warned that missed eye examinations and low public awareness of the symptoms of eye disease, risks leading to a surge in avoidable sight loss – as well as increases in mental health issues and falls.

Figures launched to mark the start of National Eye Health Week (21 to 27 September), estimate that five million routine eye examinations were missed during lockdown. The charity has described this figure as “a conservative estimate”, and one which is based on trends extrapolated from seasonal General Ophthalmic Services sight test figures from the last five years and private eye exam data.

It added that reduced capacity for sight tests in optical practices, due to Covid safety measures, has meant further delays in diagnosing and treating sight-threatening eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment is the best defence in controlling eye disease and preventing avoidable sight loss for the estimated six million people in the UK living with sight-threatening conditions or uncorrected refractive error, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, Jo Churchill, said: “Protecting the health of our eyes is incredibly important – but it’s something that too often gets overlooked. That’s why I’m delighted that Eye Health UK has dedicated a week to raising awareness of the issues around eye health and how people can look after their vision.

“Eyecare services are open and practising safely across the country to provide advice and support in Covid secure environments. I would urge everyone to take care of their sight and have it tested regularly.”

Citing recent research on the impact of sight loss on quality of life, David Cartwright, Eye Health UK chairman, said: “Even slightly reduced vision can have an impact on your mental health – increasing the risk of depression three-fold. It can also affect your physical well-being – more than doubling the risk of falls, for example, as well as taking a toll on educational performance and social activities.”

The charity also highlighted a recent University of London study into age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of sight loss – which found the most common patient-related factor for delays in treating the condition was people not attributing their symptoms to the condition as they either lacked knowledge about AMD symptoms or attributed them to another eye problem, such as needing stronger spectacles. Study participants also didn’t perceive their symptoms as urgent or important and so delayed contacting their optician.

The advice being reiterated to the public during National Eye Health Week is to contact a qualified eyecare practitioner immediately if:

  • Your vision has suddenly changed or become blurry
  • You have a painful or red eye
  • You have been referred by NHS 111, your GP practice or other healthcare professional
  • You have broken or lost your glasses and can’t function properly without them
  • You have a problem with your contact lenses
  • You have a foreign body in your eye
  • You are worried about your vision or eye health

Those not registered with an optical practice can find details of local opticians on the NHS website here

For out-of-hours medical emergencies, such as a sudden and severe change in your vision, eye pain or trauma (e.g. a foreign body entering the eye or exposure to a chemical substance), the advice is to contact your local eye accident and emergency service.

It’s recommended everyone has an eye examination every two years unless advised otherwise by their optometrist.