It's National Eye Health Awareness Week and optometrists are calling on people to take better care of their eyes.
Research found that around five million Britons have not had an eye test in the last decade, despite the fact more than two thirds (66%) of the population recognise that you can have a serious eye problem without realising it due to lack of symptoms.
The College of Optometrists said that 9% of British adults cannot remember the last time they had a test or claim that it has been at least 10 years since they visited an optician.
Don’t forget your eyes
Treat your eye health as you would any other part of your body. Most people are recommended to go for a check-up every two years, unless otherwise advised by an optometrist. Even if you think your vision is fine, some eye conditions, for example open angle glaucoma, may not show symptoms.
Be risk aware
People of Asian or African Caribbean descent or people over 40 should go for a sight test at least every two years as they are more at risk of developing eye disease
If you smoke, you have another good reason to kick the habit. Smoking is linked to blindness. Current smokers are four times more likely to develop macular degeneration – a progressive disease that can lead to significant sight loss – compared to past smokers or non-smokers.
It’s all relative
Talk to your relatives about your family eye health history as some eye conditions, such as glaucoma, can run in families. It’s important to think about your child’s eyes and to be aware of their vision, especially if there is a family history of lazy eye or squint or family members wore particularly strong spectacles when they were young.
Be cool in the sun
Protect your eyes when it is sunny or when you’re in high glare areas such as near snow or water. Cumulative UV exposure may damage your eyes. When choosing sunglasses make sure that they are safe as well as stylish! Look out for the CE or BS EN 1836:2005 marks – this ensures that they provide a safe level of protection from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget to also protect children’s eyes – they’re more at risk.
Protect your eyes
If you work with hazardous or airborne materials at work or home wear safety glasses or protective goggles to protect your eyes from injury.
Keep fit and healthy
Regular exercise is essential to stay fit and healthy but it is also important that when playing sports such as squash that you wear protective eye wear such as helmets or sports goggles to protect your eyes from a flying ball.
Protecting your eyes starts with the food you eat. Nutrients rich in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E may help to prevent age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Recommended foods include green leafy vegetables and oily fish, such as salmon, and citrus fruits.
Contact lens care
If you wear contact lenses make sure you look after them properly. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands before touching your contact lenses or your eyes, and only ever clean your contact lenses using the solution recommended by your optometrist. Never shower, sleep or swim with your contact lenses in because this can put you at risk of developing a serious eye infection which could lead to blindness. Also, don't wear them for longer periods than recommended by your optometrist.
Many people said they had not been for a test because they did not think it was necessary but the college is warning that some eye conditions do not show symptoms so delaying tests could mean damaged sight.
Dr Susan Blakeney, the College of Optometrists' clinical adviser, said: "86% of people value their eyesight above any other sense and over two thirds of people wear corrective lenses of some sort.
"However, it often takes a big change in vision or health for people to visit an optometrist to find out what's going on, and that may be too late to reverse any damage to sight, especially if you are in an at-risk group.
"Most people will probably be fine but it's worth remembering not every eye condition has symptoms so regular check-ups, unless otherwise advised by your optometrist, are vital to maintain healthy eyes."
Different Shaped Pupils
The pupils (the black circle in the centre of the eye) in normal people are usually symmetrical, the same size and react in the same way when exposed to sunlight. If one pupil is bigger or smaller than the other, there could be an underlying medical problem. Experts claim that differences in pupil size could indicate that the person is at a higher risk of having a stroke, brain or optic nerve tumour, or brain aneurysm. <strong>If you spot any changes to your pupils, raise this with your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.</strong>
Dry Eyes (Sensitive To The Light)
If your eyes are always dry and ultra sensitive to light, it could signal an immune system disorder, <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Sjogrens-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx" target="_hplink">Sjogren</a>, which impairs the glands in the eyes and mouth. The condition affects women over 40 with autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. <strong>Seek advice from your GP if this sounds like you, as artificial lubricant can be prescribed and you'll be advised to drink plenty of water.</strong> "Dry eyes are more common in women over 50 due to hormonal changes," adds Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. </a>
If your eye is covered in a 'cloud' and your vision is impaired because of it, you may have a cataract. This causes a clouding of the lens inside the eye and can be corrected with surgery. This condition mainly occurs in older people but in younger people, it is commonly caused as a side effect of diabetes, tumours and some medication.
Although there are many things that can cause itchiness around the eyes, the most common reason could be pinpointed to an allergic reaction. The eye, and the area around it, is delicate and sensitive and more vulnerable to infections and allergies. Triggers could be anything from airborne pollens, dust or animal fur. <strong>If you suffer from red itchy eyes, try antihistamines to ease the redness, or visit your GP to organise an allergy test. </strong> If your eye and eyelids become puffy and sore, this could be a sign that you're sleep deprived. "Fluid moves around your head when you sleep and normally disperses when you wake from a good night's sleep. "However, lack of sleep causes this fluid to retain around the eye area for longer," explains Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists</a>.
If your eye has a light grey ring around the cornea (the coloured circle in your eye), you may have a condition called <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/arcus-senilis/AN01493" target="_hplink">arcus senilis</a>, which is often linked to high cholesterol levels and triglycerides - fatty acids found in the blood. These are linked to higher risk of heart disease and strokes, so if you spot a grey ring circling your eye, <strong>visit your GP to discuss changing your diet. </strong>
Although it's natural for eyebrows to become thinner as we age, if you notice your brows literally 'disappearing' from the outer third of the eyebrow, this could signal a thyroid dysfunction. Loss of eyebrow hair from the outer edges of your face is a common sign of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (under active thyroid). Thyroids help regulate the metabolism and thyroid hormones are vital for hair production. <strong>If in doubt, book an appointment with your GP.</strong>
"Watery eyes can indicate infection," explains Larry Benjamin from <a href="http://www.rcophth.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">The Royal College of Ophthalmologists</a>. "If the eye is watery, you've most likely got an infection caused by a virus. If it's sticky, you might have a bacterial infection." If your vision becomes blurry, this could also be the result of <a href="http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/" target="_hplink">Computer Vision Syndrome</a> (CVS), caused by eyestrain from lack of contrast on a computer screen. This makes the eyes work harder focusing on the pixels on the screen. <strong>If in doubt, speak to your employer about booking an eye test, which is free if you use visual display units (VDU) for long periods of time. </strong>
Yellow lumps, also known, as xanthelasma palpebral, which appear on your eyelids could be a warning signal that your cholesterol levels are sky high. These are fatty deposits, which clump together and live in the eyelid. These are very often mistaken for a stye. Although these are quite common, <strong>it's best to get them checked by your optician or GP, as it can sometimes be an early sign of coronary artery disease. </strong> If you spot any coloured spots on your eyelids, in particular brown spots, <strong>visit your GP immediately</strong> as it could be an early sign of skin cancer. These usually appear on the lower part of the eyelid and will look a brownish colour with tiny blood vessels.
If your eyes are always blood-shot with broken blood vessels making them look blotchy and sore, this could be a sign that you have high blood pressure. Your optician will be able to confirm this by looking at your retina (the inner part of the eye). High blood pressure causes the blood vessel in the retina to 'kink and twist', causing them to break and look red. This could increase your risk of a stroke, so <strong>raise it with your GP as soon as possible. </strong>
If the whites of your eyes have a yellow tint rather than pearly white, you may have jaundice, which is linked to various liver and gall bladder problems. A simple blood test will confirm this, so if you're in doubt, <strong>book an appointment with your GP. </strong>
Francesca Marchetti, chair of National Eye Health Week, said: "Many people dread the thought of losing their sight but few of us think about what we can do to keep our eyes healthy. One of the most important steps you can take to protect your sight is to get your eyes checked regularly.
"A sight test is not just to check whether you need to wear glasses it is actually a window into your overall health. An eye check can detect eye conditions which have no symptoms and other conditions such as diabetes and hypertension."
The college, which surveyed 4,032 British adults, said that most people are recommended to go for a check-up every two years. People over the age of 40 and those of African Caribbean descent have increased risk of developing an eye disease such as glaucoma and should ensure they have the tests done.