One of my privileges as an optician is to see my patients' faces light up when a new prescription means they no longer need to squint at their mobiles or struggle to see which player has scored their team's goal. I therefore completely agree with new research from Specsavers and Royal National Institute of Blind People that reveals that sight is the nation's most precious sense by far.
Specsavers and RNIB began a partnership last year to transform the nation's eye health, and some of the findings in their new State of the Nation Eye Health 2017: A Year in Review report are truly shocking. Published ahead of National Eye Health Week (18 - 24 September), the report warns that one in five people will live with sight loss in their lifetime despite at least half of all cases being avoidable.
The alarming new statistics also show that every day 250 people start to lose their sight in the UK, with women, who tend to live longer, being at greater risk than men. Almost six million people in the UK currently live with sight-threatening conditions, with means that nearly every family in Britain is touched by sight problems in some way.
Despite this, 25% of us are not having an eye test every two years, as recommended by the College of Optometrists. It's also really worrying that 23% of the nation say they are not able to see as well in the distance or close up as they used to and have not sought advice from an optician or medical professional.
It's really important that we understand the reasons behind this lack of action. The report reveals that, of those who had not been for an eye test in the past two years, 33% did not think that there was anything wrong with their eyes, 24% said that they did not have time or did not get round to it, and 17% were concerned about the cost of new glasses.
When those who had not been for a test in the past two years were asked what would prompt them to have one, the most common answers were if they were struggling to read (58%) or see their mobile devices (46%), and if they were starting to get headaches or tired eyes (45%).
Not only does this mean that some people are waiting for signs of sight loss before visiting an optician, it also means that they are potentially preventing their optician from detecting signs of eye health problems or other medical issues at an early stage. We know that early intervention is important in the management and successful treatment of many conditions.
Less than half the time taken during an eye appointment involves testing sight. Most of our time with patients is spent assessing indicators of wider eye health, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, and general health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Time is a perceived barrier, as the average appointment takes about 20 to 30 minutes. The report reveals that, over a two-year period, 51% of people will have their boiler serviced twice, 42% will visit the dentist four times, 23% will have a health check twice, and 36% will review their mobile phone contract.
As a nation, we devote more time to servicing our boiler than having our eyes checked, despite the potential wider health implications of not doing so, putting ourselves at unnecessary risk of sight loss.
Cost is a wider concern. The report says that a fifth of UK adults not prepared to pay anything at all for an eye test, and a third only willing to spend at most £25. In terms of prioritisation, a quarter of people who spend £50 on shoes a year would not be prepared to pay anything at all for an eye test.
Cost should not, and need not, be a barrier, with the NHS providing support towards the cost of eye tests and glasses for those in need of financial support. Finding out whether you qualify is quick and easy and can be done via the Specsavers website, and we should always remember that children are entitled to free eye tests and glasses.
As we head in to another National Eye Health Week, I'm urging everyone who hasn't had a sight test in two years to call by their local optician - my colleagues and I want to prevent as many cases of avoidable sight loss as possible.
For more information about looking after your eyes visit www.specsavers.com.