Despite opticians being trained to spot health issues, one in ten of Britons over the age of 40 are putting themselves at risk from the serious eye condition, glaucoma, by never or not having taken an eye test in the last five years.
Even among people who are aware of glaucoma, less than half (48%) know glaucoma has no obvious early symptoms that can only be detected by an optician or an eye care professional.
These are the findings of research carried out on behalf of the International Glaucoma Association, the charity for people with glaucoma, to coincide with National Glaucoma Awareness Week (9 to 15 June 2014).
Russell Young, CEO, IGA commented: “The good news is 49 per cent of people over the age of 40 are having an eye test every two or three years and 32% every year, but, what’s worrying, is that a significant minority still aren’t visiting opticians regularly, despite free eye tests available to groups most at risk**. Glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness, has no obvious early symptoms, and it isn’t until the condition is fairly advanced that the individual recognises that something is wrong with their vision. Once vision is lost, it cannot be recovered.”
Repeated research shows sight is the sense that people fear to lose the most. With opticians on every high street, it is easy for eye conditions to be detected early and treated. Treatment, often in the form of eye drops, means that most people will retain useful sight for life.
Young continues, “Glaucoma has commonly been described as tunnel vision, yet this is rare. It is far more common for people to experience patchy or misty vision in places. Encouragingly, our research shows the role of the optician as a health professional is largely understood with the majority (89 per cent) being aware that the optician can detect eye conditions that can lead to loss of sight if not successfully treated”.
This year’s National Glaucoma Awareness Week 2014 is urging everyone over the age of 40 to take Action for Sight, and have regular eye tests, particularly if they are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. This includes people of African-Caribbean origin, who are four times more likely to develop the condition, more likely for it to appear earlier, and for it to be more severe, when compared to people of European origin.
The IGA is supporting the Action for Sight campaign through awareness packs distributed via hospitals, opticians, and through our members and volunteers. Advertising at bus shelters in London and promotions with The Voice newspaper and Nigerian Watch newspaper and website will focus on the increased need for the African-Caribbean population to book an eye test.
“With an ageing population and predictions that the black and minority ethnic community will increase to 30 per cent of the population by 2050***, the role of the optician has never been more important. Early detection and treatment literally saves sight, as over 90% of individuals who are diagnosed early will retain useful sight for life. Despite such promising results, it is estimated over 50% of cases of glaucoma remain undetected in the UK,” Young concludes.