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Protect NHS this winter by looking after eyes

With hospitals in Northern Ireland already at peak levels for bed occupancy, and a warning from Health Minister Robin Swann that the Health and Social Care System is ‘most likely facing into the most difficult winter ever experienced’, Specsavers is reminding people to ensure their eye tests are up to date to help to alleviate the strain on these services.

Research from Specsavers shows that there were 4.3 million fewer eye examinations (23% drop) between March to December in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, which means many eye, and other serious health conditions that can be spotted during an eye test, may have gone undetected.

Coleraine Specsavers Optometrist, Judith Ball, says: “Just as simple headaches and weight fluctuations can reveal deeper health issues, our eyes and ears can also give us indications of wider health concerns so it is important we’re having regular check-ups.”

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Judith explains the symptoms we can spot and the health conditions that can be picked up during an eye test.

Glaucoma

“Glaucoma is often symptomless as it develops so gradually. That’s why it is often referred to as the silent thief of sight. It is one of the leading causes of blindness, however, if it is identified in its early stages, it can be successfully managed. Regular eye examinations are key to detecting it – and are so important to those at greater risk of the condition due to their older age or family history.” 

Diabetic retinopathy 

“In its early stages diabetic retinopathy usually doesn’t pose any noticeable symptoms, so an eye test can pick it up before you do. As the condition affects small blood vessels in the eye, damaging the retina, your optometrist can look for early characteristic changes, such as tiny leaks from these damaged vessels.” 

High blood pressure 

“During an eye test, your optometrist might spot signs of high blood pressure, through observing the eye’s blood vessels to see if they have narrowed or started leaking.  Patients with high blood pressure can develop a condition called hypertensive retinopathy which sees the walls of blood vessels thicken, narrow and restrict blood flow. In some cases the retina also becomes swollen and the blood vessels can leak.”   

Potential retinal detachment

“Floaters appear as black or translucent spots or strands, which give the impression of seeing something ‘float’ across your field of vision. Most are very small and move out of your vision very quickly, and it’s likely that you will see more floaters in your vision as you get older, and if you are short-sighted.

“In rare occasions, new floaters can sometimes be an indication of retinal detachment, a potentially serious condition. This can be treated with early detection, so it is important to contact your optometrist immediately if you notice new floaters, flashing lights, or both.”

Arthritis

“As well as causing inflammation of the joints, some autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause inflammation in the eyes. This inflammation usually leads to dry eye but occasionally it can cause more serious conditions like inflammation of the iris.”

Tumours

“While an eye test can look for any cancers of the eye such as melanomas, it will sometimes reveal signs of possible brain tumours. Swelling in the optic nerves can be visible during an eye test and can sometimes indicate that a brain tumour is present.”

While these tell-tale signs can indeed reveal further health issues, it’s important to maintain regular eye appointments to diagnose and treat conditions as early as possible. This will limit the risk of needing to go to hospital for urgent care, and thus help to alleviate further pressure on the NHS.

Specsavers recommends booking an eye test at least every two years or more often if there is a more serious concern. To find out more or book an appointment visit: https://www.specsavers.co.uk/stores/coleraine.