Left in the dark

Eye health experts have warned that avoidable sight loss is a growing problem as National Eye Health Week gets underway


Lifestyle choices and low uptake of sight tests are increasing the cases of avoidable sight loss, leaving one million Brits in the dark, eye health experts have warned.

Experts issued the warning to mark the beginning of National Eye Health Week (NEHW, 18–24 September) and said that the number is forecast to rise by a third by 2030 if action isn’t taken now.

Chair of NEHW, David Cartwright, explained: “Eyesight declines as part of the natural aging process and some cases of sight loss are still sadly unavoidable, but for many, simply going for regular eyes tests and adopting a healthier lifestyle could prevent sight loss having a significant impact on our lives and help people to live well for longer.”

NEHW experts stated that being physically active can reduce the risk of visual impairment by 58% compared to somebody with a sedentary lifestyle.

Eating less meat, drinking less alcohol and increasing the amount of fish in a diet can also reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which the British Medical Journal (BMJ) said is the UK’s leading cause of blindness.

The BMJ also revealed that one in five cases of AMD are caused by tobacco consumption, making smoking directly responsible for 120,000 cases of the disease in Britain today.

NEHW also highlighted that 13.8 million people fail to have regular sight tests, with an estimated 300,000 Brits living with undiagnosed glaucoma.

The College of Optometrists recommends that adults should have a sight test every two years.

Six sight-saving tips have been issued by NEHW that Mr Cartwright explained “seek to inspire people to make small lifestyle changes that could make a big difference to their future eye health.”

  1. Quit smoking – smokers have a significantly greater risk of sight loss than non-smokers
  2. Eat right for good sight – eye-friendly nutrients found in many fruit and vegetables and fatty acids derived from fish, nuts and oils can all help protect your sight
  3. Watch your weight – obesity increases the risk of diabetic retinopathy 
  4. Get fit – aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve
  5. Cover up – exposure to UV light can increase the risk of developing AMD and cataract
  6. Be screen smart – avoid eye strain by looking 20 feet in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

Eye Health UK, the charity responsible for running NEHW, has also teamed up with the NHS and West Midlands Local Eye Health Network to produce a video animation to highlight the impact of lifestyle on eye health.