Many of us take our senses for granted without fully appreciating what an intrinsic part they play in our day-to-day lives. Social studies have shown that sight is the sense that people would find the most difficult to lose – and indeed adapt to life without – followed closely by hearing. To experience a visual impairment can be shocking, upsetting, and ultimately disruptive to life in general – Thomas Pocklington Trust exist to make sure those effected get the help and support they need, when and where they need it.
In the UK nearly two million people are living with sight loss, a figure that is constantly growing and is predicted to double to four million by 2050. Contributing factors to this shocking forecast include an increase in obesity and diabetes, a lack of understanding of the links between life style choices, disease and eye conditions and an increasingly ageing population.
With more than 50 per cent of sight loss avoidable it is vital that we all take steps to look after ours eyes.
Regular Eye Tests
Looking after our vision begins with regular eye tests – we should all have our eyes checked once every two years at the very least, regardless of whether our sight has altered since the previous examination or whether or not we wear glasses. Remember an eye test doesn’t just check whether you need glasses but is a vital first step in checking the overall health of your eyes and can detect other health issues such as high blood pressure.
A quick check-up can anticipate future changes to our eyes, address any problems before they increase in severity, and help us receive the correct treatment at the correct time. Depending on the check-up results, we may be referred to an ophthalmologist at a hospital eye health department.
Booking an eye test is easy – simply contact your local optometrist (optician) to arrange an appointment – you can find your nearest optometrist using NHS Choices.
For further information on eye examinations, check out the RNIB site here.
How can I look after my sight?
The following areas are vital to consider when we think about eye health – simple lifestyle changes and smarter choices can make all the difference to our vision in the long-term.
- Diet – Research shows that the food we eat has a direct affect on our eye health. Experts recommend regular consumption of the following for healthy eyes; eggs, oily fish, broccoli, leafy greens & colorful fruit and vegetables. For more information, Vision Matters has compiled Nutrition and the Eye.
- Alcohol – The immoderate consumption of alcohol is proven to result in serious health conditions, that in turn have a detrimental affect on our eye sight. For more information on alcohol and its effect on the eye, the Royal College of Opthalmologists has produced these guidelines regarding Alcohol and the Eye.
- Exercise – Exercise may reduce the risk of sight loss from high blood pressure, diabetes and the hardening and narrowing of arteries. For more information, read Exercise and Eyesight from the Royal College of Opthalmologists.
- Smoking – Smokers are two to three times more likely than non-smokers to develop age-related macular degeneration. Smoking also substantially increases our chances of cataracts. For further details, the Macular Society has provided this information.
- Sunlight – The sun can be extremely harmful to our eyesight – we must ensure our sunglasses protect against ultraviolet rays (Check for the ‘CE’ mark) and never look at the sun directly. More information here courtesy of NHS Choices.
What are some of the health problems that cause sight loss?
There are many general health conditions that can have implications for your sight.
Obesity can increase the risk of developing certain eye conditions that can cause sight loss.
- Diabetic retinopathy – Obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes where high blood sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels that deliver blood to the retinas. The condition can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – Obesity has been shown to increase the risk of dry AMD. Dry AMD causes gradual deterioration of a small part of the retina known as the macular, as the retinal cells die off and are not regenerated
- Cataracts – Overweight people have double the risk of developing cataracts than people who are in a healthy weight range. Cataracts are a common eye condition in which the lens inside the eye gradually becomes less transparent with age, making vision cloudier.
As many as two thirds of people that suffer a stroke will experience some changes in their vision. The damage the stroke does in the brain impacts the visual pathways of the eye which can result in visual field loss, blurry vision, double vision and moving images. There are four common vision problems you could encounter:
- Visual field defects – A visual field defect is a loss of part of the usual field of vision. The most common is a condition where you can only see out of one side of the eye, but some people lose the upper or lower field of vision, and others lose patches, seemingly at random.
- Eye movement problems – A stroke can damage the nerves that are needed to move your eyes. This can lead to impaired eye movements, inability to move one or both eyes up, down, sideways or inwards, constant movement, or impaired depth perception.
- Central vision loss – Central vision loss is the partial or complete loss of vision in one or both of your eyes.
- Visual processing problems – A stroke can reduce your brain’s ability to process what the eye is seeing. Visual neglect is a common processing problem in people who have experienced a stroke, where a person may become unaware of objects or people on the affected side.
Dementia has been linked with sight problems in several ways. Dementia affects the way information from our eyes is processed, so some types of dementia create apparent sight loss. People with dementia can also experience visual difficulties caused by the brain, but there may be nothing actually wrong with the eyes. Eye conditions that cause sight loss and normal ageing of the eye may also occur alongside dementia.
Diabetes can cause sight loss when high blood sugar levels damage the delicate network of blood vessels that deliver blood to the retina. This is known as diabetic retinopathy, and occurs most often if a person’s diabetes isn’t managed properly. Many people with diabetes have a very mild form of retinopathy which may never progress to a sight-threatening condition.