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Awareness week warns of 'ticking time-bomb' of preventable sight loss

Concerns are being raised that the coronavirus crisis may lead to a 'ticking time-bomb' of preventable sight loss if people neglect eye treatment or regular check-ups.

A drive to emphasise the importance of maintaining eye health and reassure the public it is safe to visit their local optometrist begins at the start of National Eye-Health Week today.

Eye examinations, which are NHS funded in Scotland, can not only detect early signs of sight problems, in time to arrest or reverse the damage but sometimes pick up the symptoms of other serious health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes to name just a few.

One Aberdeenshire woman visited an optometrist at an Emergency Eye Treatment Centre after experiencing blurred vision and then sight loss in one eye and was referred to a hospital where she received potentially life-saving treatment for a brain aneurysm.

Meanwhile, another patient, a man from South Lanarkshire, was referred to hospital after his optician investigated a shadow on his retina – he was found to have suffered a mini eye stroke, and by chance during his tests kidney cancer was also detected before it metastasised allowing him to be referred for vital treatment.

During National Eye-Health Week, Optometry Scotland and national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland are joining forces to boost the eye-health message.

David Quigley, chair of Optometry Scotland, said: "Community Optometrists and Opticians' practices remain the first port of call for any eye problems and we want to reassure the public that a range of enhanced hygiene measures, including NHS-approved PPE, are in place across practices, enabling patients to seek effective care in a safe environment.

“If you have any concerns whatsoever about your eye health, or you’re due a routine eye examination, don’t delay in contacting your local optician. We are open and ready to help. It’s important not to turn up without an appointment so please make sure you call in advance.”

RNIB Scotland has produced a series of photographs of iconic Scottish landmarks distorted by the effects of common sight loss conditions. "We want to illustrate the potential consequences of not maintaining good eye health," said its director, James Adams.

"Some people have expressed concern over attending optometrist or eye clinic appointments or are worried about using public transport to get there. We've even heard some people say they don't want to 'bother' optometrists during this crisis period.

"Every survey shows that sight is the sense people fear losing most. And yet we can be surprisingly complacent about our eyes. During National Eye Health Week, we want to remind everyone to take care of one of the most precious things we have – our sight.”

During the awareness week, optometrists will take part in question-and-answer sessions on RNIB's Connect radio station, while Stuart McMillan MSP, chair of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on visual impairment, will table a parliamentary motion highlighting the message.