Missed eye tests risk surge in sight loss, mental health issues and falls for millions
The charity Eye Health UK today warned that missed sight tests 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 National Eye Health Week (21 – 27 September) reveal five million routine eye tests were missed during lockdown; whilst reduced capacity for sight tests in opticians, due to Covid safety measures, means 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 (eg: short-sightedness).
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.
“Eye care 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.”
Poor eye health can have a significant effect on quality of life. David Cartwright, Chairman of the charity Eye Health UK explains “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.”
Worryingly, research shows that many of us are unaware of the symptoms of sight-threatening conditions. A recent University of London study into age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the UK’s leading cause of sight loss – 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 their symptoms to another eye problem eg: needing stronger spectacles.
Study participants also didn’t perceive their symptoms as urgent or important and so delayed contacting their optician.
Yet, half of all sight loss is avoidable. In order to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment people are advised to contact their optician 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
If you are not registered with an optical practice, you can find details of local opticians on the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-an-optician
If you have an out-of-hours medical emergency – a sudden and severe change in your vision, eye pain or trauma (eg: a foreign body entering the eye or exposure to a chemical substance) – you should contact your local eye accident and emergency service.
It’s recommended everyone has an eye test every two years unless advised otherwise by their optometrist.
 Eye Health UK is a registered charity [registered charity number 1086146]
 Figure extrapolated from 2019 private eye examination data and GOS statistics.
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6340416/, JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016;134(9):959-966. / doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1778 / Cieza A, Kocur I, Mariotti S, McCoy M. The future of eye care in a changing world. Bull World Health Organ. 2017;95:667./ Klein BE, Klein R, Lee KE, Cruickshanks KJ. Performance-based and self-assessed measures of visual function as related to history of falls, hip fractures, and measured gait time. The Beaver Dam Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 1998;105(1):160-4.
Patient-reported reasons for delay in diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration: a national survey, Alice Parfitt, Emily Boxell, Winfried M Amoaku, Clare Bradley http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjophth-2019-000276
 Access Economics, Deloitte UK
 Jack CI, et al. Gerontology.
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