Warnings that the number of Scots with sight loss could potentially double by 2030 have been voiced at the end of a national awareness week to highlight the importance of eye-health.
RNIB is calling for a sustained drive to tackle preventable sight loss, after a new YouGov survey, commissioned by the charity in association with Specsavers, found that one in four Scots questioned didn't realise that eye examinations have been free north of the border since 2006.
Speaking at the close of National Eye Health Week today, RNIB Scotland director Campbell Chalmers said: "Free eye health examinations are crucial in identifying sight threatening conditions and other conditions such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis and tumours. But more needs to be done to reach the most excluded groups where take-up remains low.
"If we are to minimise the very high costs - personal, social and economic - of sight loss, we must get across the message about the importance of eye examinations in detecting sight loss and other health conditions, and that they are now universally free."
The number of people registered as blind or partially sighted in Scotland is estimated to be 34,492. But research suggests that around ten per cent of eligible people do not register, making the true figure closer to 40,000. A further 148,000 people are estimated to have significant sight loss.
However, the numbers could potentially double by 2030 due to increases in the elderly population and Scotland's persistently poor health record. Diabetic retinopathy, for example, is the single biggest cause of sight loss among working-age Scots, and diabetes rates are rocketing.
But Scotland has also led the way in other areas of eye-health, says Chalmers. "The past decade has seen many advances in eye care in Scotland, including the introduction of free eye examinations, the rapid digital transfer of information between optometrists and eye clinics, and progress in identifying 'hidden' sight loss among groups that might not be able to easily communicate a problem, such as those with dementia or a learning disability.
"But we must get the message out more loudly. In the same way we are now more aware of the health of our heart and lungs, we must all start to think more seriously about looking after one of the most precious things we have - our sight."