Why a regular eye test is so important

SIGHT is the sense most of us fear losing, but many of us don’t know the best way to look after our eyes.

National eye health week, which starts a week today, aims to raise awareness of eye health and the importance of regular eye checks.

The RNIB recommends an annual sight test for children up to the age of 16 and then at least every two years until the age of 59. Those over 60 should have an annual test.

Many of us will experience temporary eye problems from time to time. These are usually short-lived and will probably go away on their own with no complications.

But sudden eye problems and those that last for more than a couple of days should be checked by an ophthalmologist.

More than 100,000 people in Wales are living with sight loss, which has a huge impact on individuals, their families and society.

More than 1,000 people in Wales lose their sight unnecessarily annually despite new treatments for eye disease – this is three people every day.

Half of all cases of sight loss are avoidable.

It is vitally important to note that if we do not engage in eye testing the end result could be the development of an eye condition with irreparable damage that can lead to blindness.

Waiting times for referrals for treatment in secondary eye care have increased massively in Wales over the past 12 months.

The hospital eye service is now struggling to meet demand.

Although work is continuing to ensure more patients can be monitored in the community, the service faces significant challenges as the prevalence of eye problems and sight loss in older people increases.

Between March 2010 and 2011 the number of people waiting for referrals to treatment in Wales increased from 27,113 to 29,432.

Nurses carry out several roles in sight and eye healthcare for patients, including in accident and emergency settings; in hospital eye services; ophthalmology specialised care; diabetes services and in primary care services.

Ophthalmology specialist nurses have undergone specialist training and may have additional training in ophthalmic nursing. School nurses, practice nurses and health visitors are involved in monitoring eye health at primary care level.

Anyone over the age of 60 or on certain state benefits or with certain medical conditions can have an NHS sight test free of charge.

The Welsh eye care initiative funds eye health examinations for patients who may be at greater risk of eye disease, including if you have sight in one eye only; if you have a hearing impairment and are profoundly deaf – these patients need sight to lip read.

Eye examinations are also funded if you suffer from retinitis pigmentosa; if one of your parents has an eye disease which is known to be inherited; if your family origins are Black African, Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi; or if you are at risk of eye disease by other race or family reasons.

If people are unable to leave home unaccompanied, an optometrist will come to their home and provide the NHS sight test there.

All of us have heard the old saying that a stitch in time saves nine.

In the same way, early detection of eye diseases and their timely management can prevent significant vision loss.

~ Tina Donnelly is director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales

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