Dr. Pixie McKenna urges people not to take their eyesight for granted

Cork-born TV GP Pixie McKenna today urged people not to take their eyesight for granted and see their optician for a check-up, even if they don’t need glasses.

The star of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies said: “We rely on our eyes all the time, but it’s too easy to take them for granted until our vision is affected. Although sight is our most precious sense, many people don’t visit their optician for regular checkups.

“Perhaps the fear of losing sight pushes the thought to the back of our minds – but eye problems are very common and although many people probably think a trip to the optician is only for people who wear glasses, there are many things your optician can do. Many eye injuries go undetected. I suspect there are many treatable cases of glaucoma that could be detected early by an optician.

She was speaking as a new report from Specsavers found nearly 40 per cent of the Irish population don’t understand what glaucoma is, despite it being the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness.

The report to mark World Sight Day has revealed worrying misconceptions about glaucoma (a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve) – 48% of people polled don’t care because they think ‘it’ ‘is rare’ while 40% mistakenly think it can be ‘cured’.

There are over 246,773 people in Ireland who are blind or partially sighted. But alarmingly, almost half (48%) of people still don’t know how often they should visit their optician for a routine check-up.

Up to 75% of all vision loss is preventable, according to The State of Eye Health in Ireland 2022 report.

The Specsavers report highlights the link between sight loss and an increased risk of loneliness, isolation and other health problems such as clinical depression, diabetes, dementia and stroke.

The annual cost of sight loss and blindness before the pandemic was €2.67 billion.

With the backlog of eye care services caused by the pandemic, it is likely to impose significant additional costs on people with sight-threatening conditions such as glaucoma and it is estimated that demand for glaucoma services is expected to increase by 33% over the next decade.

Kerril Hickey, Chairman of Specsavers Ireland, said: “Glaucoma can be asymptomatic, which is why only half of those affected even know they have it. Although it cannot be simply cured or reversed, early treatment can be particularly effective in slowing or preventing vision loss, it is crucial that it is detected at the earliest possible opportunity. This is why it is essential to educate the public about glaucoma and the importance of regular eye exams.

“This report highlights examples of integrated care pathways that provide high quality glaucoma care, but delivery remains fragmented, particularly in Ireland.

“We are sitting on a glaucoma ticking time bomb, but there does not appear to be a nationally agreed plan to address the concerns. We need to leverage professional expertise from across the eye care industry and gain national agreement to implement new pathways to improve glaucoma care to help save sight.

Anna Moran, Acting CEO of Fighting Blindness, said, “We remain deeply concerned about the lasting impact of coronavirus on those with and at risk of vision loss. Throughout the pandemic, so many of us concerned with eye health have worked hard to provide emergency care and support to those in need. There is now a trend to return to in-person meetings and consultations – but there is a backlog that specialist hospitals are struggling to fill.

“We are sincerely grateful to all involved in community optometry for providing patients with safe access to important eye tests and healthcare – and that it has provided a lifeline for those in need of urgent care. Glaucoma is a silent destroyer; irreparable damage may be done before symptoms become apparent to the patient.

“This report highlights the scale of the challenge we now face with glaucoma – and the continued need for regular eye testing.”

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