Hands up who gets their eyes checked regularly?

Probably not as many of us as should, considering these simple and painless checks can be the difference between maintaining or losing sight irreversibly.

And considering 49% of the UK suffer from an eye ailment, according to a survey from Optrex for National Eye Health Week, we thought it was time to seperate the fact from fiction when it comes to your eyes.

Expert Khalid Ikram, a consultant ophthalmic and refractive surgeon with over 20 years of experience, helps us explain some common myths and misconceptions around eye tests.

Eye tests are just about checking vision. If I can see OK, I don’t need one

While an eye health check will help identify if you need glasses for the first time, or if you need to change your current glasses or contact lenses, a good eye check at your local optician can actually help detect a lot more than that.

Your optometrist can detect early warning signs of potentially serious eye conditions before symptoms are even presenting including macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in the UK), glaucoma and signs of injury or abnormality. Early detection and treatment can help reduce the risk of damage and help prevent permanent vision loss. 

Eye test

The eyes are often referred to as a ‘gateway to the rest of the body’ which is an accurate description – a thorough eye examination will not only detect early signs of potentially serious eye conditions but can also detect signs of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It’s a lot more than just a simple test to check your eye sight.

Eye tests are too expensive

An eye test costs around £20 - £25, which may seem like a lot of money. But if you consider the fact that you are having a check-up that can not only detect problems with vision, overall eye health and early signs of conditions that may result in loss of vision – so they can be treated early – but also conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can lead to more complications, I personally feel that it is worth the money and time.

I don’t need to start thinking about eye checks until I am older

Recent research by eye care specialists Spectrum Thea indicated that optometrists are concerned that Brits may be suffering from eye conditions at an increasingly younger age due to modern lifestyles.

Some of the most common eye conditions like dry eye disease and blepharitis can affect people of any age, especially with the increased uses of screens in our modern lives.

Concentrating and reading can reduce blink rate by a third meaning that the natural oils and tears that keeps the eye surface lubricated are not being renewed. These chronic conditions cannot be cured but can usually be very effectively managed if patients seek advice from eye specialists. 

If left undiagnosed or untreated these conditions can cause frequent irritation, grittiness, eyelid cysts and eye infections. In extreme circumstances, dry eye can even cause ulceration and scarring on the cornea (the front clear window of the eyeball) with permanent loss of vision.

It is essential that people are having their conditions diagnosed correctly in the first instance with regular eye health checks and are getting the right treatment plan with preservative-free lubricants and lid hygiene products.

If I have symptoms of an eye irritation I go to my GP

In the GP surgery they may be able to run some tests on your eyes but they very rarely have the correct equipment on site to conduct a full eye health checks you would have done at the optometrist.

Eye drops

Using dry eye as an example, there can be several different causes from a blockage in the glands that secrete oils into the eye, which stop the tears from breaking up too quickly after you blink to the tear ducts not producing enough tears.

Different types of dry eye can require a slightly different management plan from heated eye bags and massage to the type of preservative-free drops you should be using, so it is essential, with any eye condition to consult an optometrist for a full examination, diagnosis and advice on treatment options.

If I have symptoms of dry, itchy eyes I can just go and pick up a product on the shelves from Boots

There could be different reasons behind the cause of your dry, itchy eyes so I would always recommend getting an expert diagnosis and recommendations on which products to use to treat or successfully manage your symptoms.

Many eye care products also contain preservatives, the most common of which is BAK. Research has shown that the long-term use of this preservative can actually result in cell damage and inflammation – so it is really important to make sure anything you use is preservative-free where possible.

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