Many Brits are living with avoidable sight loss

Experts behind National Eye Health Week (September 18 - 24) have warned that a million people in the UK are living with avoidable sight loss that’s severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives, leaving them unable to do things such as drive.

According to David Cartwright, chair of National Eye Health Week, eyesight declines as part of the natural ageing process, and some cases of sight loss are unavoidable. “But for many, simply going for regular eye 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,” he adds.

National Eye Health Week experts point out there are several ways in which lifestyle can have an impact on eye health. Being physically active, for instance, has been shown to reduce your risk of visual impairment by 58 percent compared with someone who has a sedentary lifestyle, they explain.

They also claim there’s growing evidence that what we eat and drink can play a role in triggering the onset and progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD – the UK’s leading cause of blindness. One study, for instance, suggests eating one portion of fish a week could reduce your risk of developing AMD by as much as 40 percent, while heavy drinking has been associated with the development of the condition. Eating a diet high in red meat could also increase your risk of developing cataracts.

Meanwhile, research published in the British Medical Journal suggests one in five cases of AMD are caused by smoking.

Sight-saving tips

To keep your vision healthy for as long as possible, National Eye Health Week experts have offered the following tips:

Quit smoking Smokers have a significantly greater risk of sight loss than non-smokers. Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the delicate surface and the internal structure of the eye. This can lead to an increased risk of many eye conditions including AMD, nuclear cataracts, thyroid eye disease, dry eye and impaired colour vision.

If you need support with giving up, ask your local Careway pharmacist what help they have to offer (find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

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. Vitamins B and E can help protect against cataracts whilst omega-3 fish oils help maintain healthy blood vessels inside the eye.

Watch your weight Maintaining a healthy weight helps preserve macula pigment density, which in turn, helps protect the retina against the breakdown of cells and the onset of AMD. Obesity also puts you at increased risk of diabetic retinopathy and damage to blood vessels in the eye caused by excess body weight has been linked to glaucoma.

Get fit Aerobic exercise can help increase oxygen supplies to the optic nerve and lower any pressure that builds up in the eye. Reducing the pressure in your eyes can help control conditions such as glaucoma.

Cover up Exposure to UV light can increase your risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Always wear sunglasses when the UV index rises above three, and check your sunglasses filter at least 99 per cent of UVA and UVB light. Look out for a CE or British Standard or UV 400 mark when choosing your sunglasses as this indicates they provide adequate UV protection.

Be screen smart On average, people spend more than eight hours a day staring at a screen so it’s no surprise that 90 percent of say they experience screen fatigue – tired or irritated eyes, blurred vision, headaches and poor colour perception. Avoid eye strain by using the 20-20-20 rule, especially if you’re using a computer for long periods of time. Look 20 feet in front of you every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.

Also make sure you have regular eye tests once every two years, unless your optometrists advises otherwise. This can make common eye conditions easier to spot, and may help avoid irreversible sight loss.

For more information and advice about looking after your eyes, visit www.visionmatters.org.uk.