It’s National Eye Health Week! Did you know your eye test may save your life, as well as your sight?

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Surveys show that of all the senses, the one we’re most scared of losing is sight. Despite this, there is evidence that most of the UK public don’t know that they need regular eye tests, and they do not prioritise eye health. Around 8% of adults in the UK have never had an eye test. National Eye Health Week runs from September 22nd-28th, and is designed to give the UK eye care community an opportunity to promote the importance of eye tests and looking after your eyes as a key part of your general health.

Blindness in the UK is on the rise. Figures from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB)show that 1.8 million people in the UK have a problem with sight loss. The good news is that at least 50% of vision loss is avoidable if picked up early. Eye tests every two years can identify potential problems, allowing clinicians to intervene before things get serious. Having your eyes checked out is vital because your eyes won’t necessarily hurt when something is wrong. Changes in your sight can happen so slowly that you don’t notice them day to day, but they can be picked up on your regular eye exam. Another really important reason to get your (and your children’s) eyes tested is that some serious systemic conditions such as high cholesterol, MS, increased pressure in the brain, high blood pressure, diabetes, tumours of the eye and brain, and some rare genetic diseases can be picked up when an optometrist examines the retina, nerves and blood vessels in the eye.

If, between eye tests, you notice something wrong with your sight or if your eyes are painful then you should go and see an eye care professional as soon as possible. Knowing who to see can be a bit tricky and the terminology around eye care professionals is confusing. The word Optician has come to be a bit of an umbrella term for all manner of eye care specialists. The three kinds of specialist you’re most likely to encounter are: optometrists, ophthalmic medical practitioners and dispensing opticians. If you need further complex investigation or surgery you may see an ophthalmologist.

·         Optometrists are on the front line of eye health. They’re eye care specialists who conduct eye tests as well as recognising and treating most common eye problems. They are not doctors, but they are trained eye specialists. Optometrists also diagnose short and long sight, and prescribe and fit glasses. Some optometrists also treat eye conditions such as lazy eye syndrome with vision therapy, eye strengthening exercises, and can even prescribe medicines for some diseases.

·         Ophthalmic medical practitioners are doctors that specialise in eye health. They are quite similar to optometrists and do not perform surgery on the eye.

·         Dispensing opticians are similar to pharmacists but they specialise in fitting contact lenses and glasses from your prescription. They advise on the best way of looking after your eye equipment.

·         Ophthalmologists are specialist doctors in eye health and surgery. They are qualified to treat more complex problems such as cataracts (clouding of the lens) and glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye)

Seeing an optometrist is a good first step if you notice a minor or gradual change in your vision. They will examine the eyes and ask your GP to refer you to an ophthalmologist if they think you need further investigation. If your vision suddenly changes, please see a doctor straight away.