Eye health: time for an eye test?

Lesley Dobson / 23 September 2014

Regular sight checks not only spot issues with vision, they can also pick up a range of health conditions.

Results from research for the College of Optometrists show that 68% of us say we value eyesight more than all our other senses. 

Despite this, more than a third of us leave it months before we go for an eye check – and some, (13%) go for years without having an eye test. In fact one in ten of us have never had our eyes tested.

Most of us should have an eye test every two years. However, if you’re over 40, have a close relative with glaucoma, or other eye conditions, or are of African Caribbean origins, you may be more likely to have an eye condition that may not have symptoms until quite late on, such as glaucoma. Talk to your optician, giving them the relevant background information, and find out if you should have eye tests every year.

“Regular sight checks are important for two reasons, firstly because having your vision corrected can improve the quality of day to day life. Secondly, regular eye tests can mean early detection of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), that could lead to sight loss,” explains Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical adviser to the College of Optometrists.

“An optometrist may also be able to spot the signs of some broader health conditions with symptoms that affects the eyes, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.” Treating these conditions quickly is important for your overall health, as well as for your eyesight. Optometrists may also be able to detect tumours, and new research shows that they may be able to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Tips for looking after your eyesight

Looking after your eyes is important at any age, in the same way that you should look after your physical health. These tips, from Dr Susan Blakeney, contain good eye health advice for anyone from 0 to 95.

  • Quit smoking. Current smokers are significantly more likely to develop AMD, a major cause of blindness, than those who have given up, or who have never smoked.
  • Eat well. Being obese increases the risk of developing AMD, so watch your weight. And a diet rich in coloured fruit and vegetables (kale, broccoli and mangoes, for instance) may reduce your risk of developing AMD.
  • Ask the family. Check with your relatives if glaucoma, or other inherited eye conditions run in your family. If they do, it’s vital that you have regular sight tests.
  • Wear sunglasses when it’s bright. Ultra violet exposure can damage your eyes, and this can build up over time. Look for the safety standard BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013, or the CE mark to show that the glasses meet European Safety Standards.
  • Keep fit and safe. Regular exercise is essential to stay fit and healthy, but if you’re playing sports such as squash, wear protective eye wear to protect your eyes from a flying ball.

Not being able to see as well as you could, combined with the loss of muscle tone and balance that can come with age, and with conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease can put you at greater risk of tripping and/or falling. About 250,000 people aged 65 and over had to be treated in hospital following a fall, last year.

Tips for preventing falls

  • To help prevent falls, make sure you have good lighting, where you need it, and turn the lights on when it gets dark.
  • Ensure that your carpets are well fitted, and don’t have bumps or creases in them.
  • Don’t put rugs down on slippery floors, and always wear well-fitting shoes.
  • You can find out more about reducing the risk of falls at http://lookafteryoureyes.org/eye-care/ageing-eyes-and-falls/falls/

Useful websites

College of Optometrists - www.college-optometrists.org
Look after your eyes - lookafteryoureyes.org

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