Almost 40% of the Irish population don’t know what glaucoma is, despite it being the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness.
This shock statistic came to light in a survey conducted to mark World Sight Day by Specsavers, with expert contribution to the The State of the Ireland’s Eye Health 2022 report from Fighting Blindness.
It revealed worrying misconceptions around glaucoma (a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve) – 48% of respondents don’t worry about it because they think ‘it’s rare’ while 40% wrongly believe it can be ‘cured’.
There are an estimated 272,000 people in Ireland who are blind or visually impaired. But alarmingly, almost half (48%) of people still don’t know how often they should visit their optician for a routine check-up. A staggering 75% of all sight loss is avoidable and Specsavers believes nobody should have to live with sight loss that could be avoided.
That’s one of the key messages in its latest report, released this week, entitled The State of the Ireland’s Eye Health 2022.
The State of the Ireland’s Eye Health 2022 report was officially launched by Irish doctor and television personality, Dr Pixie McKenna, who explains why looking after our eyes is so important.
‘We rely on our eyes all the time but it’s all too easy to take them for granted until our vision is affected. Despite sight being our most valuable sense, many people don’t visit their optician for regular check-ups.
‘Perhaps the fear of losing our sight pushes the thought to the back of our minds – but eye problems are very common and while many people likely think a trip to the optician is only for people who wear glasses, there are lots of things your optician can do. A lot of eye damage goes undetected. I suspect there are a lot of treatable cases of glaucoma that could be picked up early by an optician.’
The Specsavers report highlights the link between sight loss and an increase in risk of loneliness, isolation and other health conditions such as clinical depression, diabetes, dementia and stroke.
It also looks at the huge economic cost of sight loss and blindness. 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 for people with sight threatening conditions such as glaucoma and it is estimated that the demand for glaucoma services is expected to rise by 33% in the next decade.
Glaucoma is a key focus for the report. Examples of best practice across Ireland are highlighted and the report features input from several patients who speak candidly about their own experiences.
Kerril Hickey, Chairman of Specsavers Ireland, describes the findings as deeply concerning.
He says: ‘Glaucoma can be symptomless which is why only half of those affected even know they have the condition. While it cannot simply be cured or reversed, early treatment can be particularly effective in slowing or preventing vision loss, it is crucial that it is detected at the first possible opportunity. That’s why it is critical to educate the public on glaucoma and the importance of regular eye examinations.
Mr Hickey adds: ‘This report highlights examples of integrated care pathways that are delivering high quality glaucoma care, but provision remains fragmented, particularly in Ireland.
‘We are sitting on a glaucoma ticking time bomb yet there appears to be no nationally agreed plan to address concerns. We must draw on the professional expertise of the entire eye care sector and gain national agreement to implement new pathways to improve glaucoma care to help save sight.’
Expert contributors to the report include Fighting Blindness, a patient-led charity with a vision to cure blindness, support people living with sight loss and empower patients.
Anna Moran, interim CEO of Fighting Blindness, says: ‘We remain deeply concerned about the lasting impact of coronavirus on people with, and at risk of, sight loss. Throughout the pandemic, so many of us concerned with eye health have worked hard to provide urgent care and support to those who have needed it. There is now a move towards getting back to in-person meetings and consultations – but there is a backlog that the specialist hospitals are struggling to meet.
‘We are sincerely grateful to everyone in community optometry for providing patients safe access to important eye tests and health care – and that this has provided a lifeline for those needing urgent care. Glaucoma is a silent destroyer; irreparable damage can be caused before symptoms become apparent to the patient.
‘This report highlights the scale of the challenge we now face with glaucoma – and the continuing need for regular eye tests.
The report concludes by highlighting guidance from the industry’s professional bodies for standardised glaucoma pathways and calling for an expanded role for community optometrists in a wider adoption of shared care services with ophthalmologists to meet current and future demand.
For more information about the State of Ireland’s Eye Health Report visit https://www.specsavers.ie/reports/state-of-irelands-eye-health-2022 or to book an appointment visit www.specsavers.ie.