WITH sight loss among the population of Northern Ireland set to increase by 25% between 2011 and 2020 a leading health association is warning that people of all ages should be looking after their eyes.
To mark National Eye Health Week, Chair of Optometry NI David Barnes has revealed that 50% of failing eye sight is preventable.
Across Northern Ireland a total of 46,660 people were estimated to suffer sight loss in 2011 (2.57%) and this is estimated to increase to 58,510 (3.05%). This is an overall increase of 25%.
“A full 50% of sight loss is preventable and it is vital that people take steps to protect their vision and ensure their eyesight doesn’t fall foul of what can often be avoidable visual impairment” said David, adding: “Thousands of people set to receive a sight loss diagnosis between now and 2020 can avoid it by taking a number of key actions.
“Our message is simple – treat a visit to your optician the same way you’d treat a visit to the dentist or doctor. Your eyesight is a vital part of your health and taking steps to prevent sight loss are relatively simple.”
Top tips to avoid sight loss include eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, cutting out cigarettes, wearing appropriate eye protection during work and sport, wearing UV protected sunglasses in the sun and having a regular eye check. All of these will reduce the risk of sight loss occurring.
Eye checks are free for all children under 16, and for those in full time education under 19, those on income support, jobseekers allowance and other income based allowances, those diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma, registered partially sighted or blind. Those over 40 who have a history of glaucoma in the family can also avail of free eye checks.
David said: “General healthy living practices are a key way to avoid sight loss. Wearing protective eyewear during sport and work also reduces accidents and visiting your optician for a regular eye check can help spot any danger signs early enough so they can be treated effectively.
“Huge sections of the population can avail of a free eye check and I would urge everyone to ensure they take care of their eyesight.”
“There are thousands of people across Northern Ireland who can prevent future sight loss by taking steps today to protect their vision.”
Having a regular eye check also has a number of indirect benefits and opticians are trained to spot the symptoms of non-sight related illnesses. In addition, free tests for children can spot eyesight problems among those starting school where concentration may be an issue.
National Eye Health Week runs from September 21-27. For more information log onto www.optometryni.co.uk.