Number of Scots with sight loss could double by 2030

Some of the different kinds of sight-loss.
Some of the different kinds of sight-loss.
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Warnings that the number of Scots with sight loss could potentially double by 2030 have been voiced at the end of a national awareness week to highlight the importance of eye-health.

RNIB is calling for a sustained drive to tackle preventable sight loss, after a new YouGov survey, commissioned by the charity in association with Specsavers, found that one in four Scots questioned didn’t realise that eye examinations have been free north of the border since 2006.

Speaking at the close of National Eye Health Week today (Sunday, September 25), RNIB Scotland director Campbell Chalmers said: “Free eye health examinations are crucial in identifying sight threatening conditions and other conditions such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis and tumours. But more needs to be done to reach the most excluded groups where take-up remains low.

“If we are to minimise the very high costs - personal, social and economic - of sight loss, we must get across the message about the importance of eye examinations in detecting sight loss and other health conditions, and that they are now universally free.”

The number of people registered as blind or partially sighted in Scotland is estimated to be 34,492. But research suggests that around ten per cent of eligible people do not register, making the true figure closer to 40,000. A further 148,000 people are estimated to have significant sight loss.

However, the numbers could potentially double by 2030 due to increases in the elderly population and Scotland’s persistently poor health record. Diabetic retinopathy, for example, is the single biggest cause of sight loss among working-age Scots, and diabetes rates are rocketing.

But Scotland has also led the way in other areas of eye-health, says Chalmers. “The past decade has seen many advances in eye care in Scotland, including the introduction of free eye examinations, the rapid digital transfer of information between optometrists and eye clinics, and progress in identifying ‘hidden’ sight loss among groups that might not be able to easily communicate a problem, such as those with dementia or a learning disability.

“But we must get the message out more loudly. In the same way we are now more aware of the health of our heart and lungs, we must all start to think more seriously about looking after one of the most precious things we have - our sight.”

The most common types of sight loss:

Age-Related Macular Degeneration, the most common sight loss condition in the UK affects central vision. Reading, recognising faces and fine focus tasks become difficult. Dry AMD causes gradual sight deterioration; Wet AMD can lead to sight loss in weeks if untreated.

Diabetic Retinopathy, results in patchy vision loss across the whole field of sight. Regular eye examinations are vital.

Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eye which results in loss of peripheral vision, or ‘tunnel vision’. If caught early, glaucoma can usually be successfully treated.

Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, causes severe vision loss and often blindness. It manifests itself in a similar way to Glaucoma. ‘Night blindness’ is common.

Cataract is a clouding of the lens which leads to blurred vision and impairs colour and depth judgement. A simple operation can replace the affected lens.

Myopia, or short sightedness, causes blurry vision in the distance but is clearer up close. A very common condition, usually easily dealt with by contact lenses or glasses.

Ways to keep your eyes healthy:

* Get your eyes examined every two years;

* Quit smoking;

* Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing CE-marked sunglasses;

* Eat green leafy vegetables and oily fish such as salmon;

* Wear safety goggles for sport and DIY.