Survey highlights public “lack of knowledge” around preventing sight loss

The survey revealed that although most people fear losing their sight, many are not prioritising preventative action

boy with green eye

The British public is being encouraged to prioritise eye health as research shows that, although the majority of people fear losing their eyesight “more than any other sense,” there is a “lack of knowledge about sight loss and how it can be prevented.”

The research, which was funded by Roche UK and developed with the Macular Society and Fight for Sight, was released to coincide with the Westminster Eye Health Day event in Parliament on 19 October.

Surveying 1516 British adults, researchers found that over 80% of people surveyed felt losing their sight would be worse than losing their sense of touch, taste, smell and hearing.

Despite this, half of respondents (51%) admitted to “rarely or never” thinking about their eye health.

When presented with options on how to prevent sight loss, 81% identified regular eye tests. But the survey revealed that only a quarter felt regular appointments with an optometrist were more important than check-ups with doctors and dentists.

Macular Society CEO, Cathy Yelf, highlighted that though many people fear losing their vision, “we know the majority of people do not take their eye health seriously and do not attend regular sight tests.”

Yelf and interim CEO of Fight for Sight, Ikram Dahman, emphasised the importance of regular sight tests, with Dahman urging the public to “prioritise your eye health now.”

Examining the public’s understanding of the prevalence of sight loss – which affects approximately two million people in the UK – the survey found that 48% of those polled thought this figure would be less than one million.

While the charities highlighted that 90% of sight loss is preventable or treatable, the research found that 40% of those surveyed “do not think it is often possible to prevent sight loss in older people.”

The Westminster Eye Health Day, hosted by MP Marsha de Cordova, in conjunction with Roche, Fight for Sight, and the Macular Society, called on Parliament to focus on preventing avoidable sight loss and improve support available to people with eye conditions.

The drop-in event aimed to provide parliamentarians with information and tools to call for improvements in the prevention and management of vision loss amongst constituents, and raise awareness of the importance of regular eye tests.

De Cordova, Labour MP for Battersea, who chairs a cross-party parliamentary group focusing on eye health (APPG for Eye Health and Visual Impairment), and who also lives with sight loss, commented on the release of the report: “Those with potentially avoidable sight loss don’t have time on their side. Many do not realise that swift treatment, often within two weeks, is needed to prevent vision from deteriorating further.”

She argued that, with ophthalmology already the busiest outpatient service before the pandemic, a more “joined-up” system is needed “with more patients treated outside of hospital to free up capacity for the most urgent cases.” De Cordova added that investment in gathering data “to fully understand our nation’s eye health” is also needed.