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Sight is the sense we most fear to lose - yet cherish the least. Why?

If you take no other message away from National Eye Health Week this month make it this - book an eye test. Now. Half of all sight loss is avoidable. Don't become one of the statistics.

Sight is the sense we most fear to lose - yet cherish the least. Why?

"Stick with the high street opticians! The sooner any health issues whether eye health or other are flagged up, the better.Dont learn the hard way."
Christine Green, client N-Vision

Sight. It’s the sense we value the most yet cherish the least – and it’s simply not common sense to continue to ignore what’s staring us in the face.

Sight loss is one of society’s health timebombs. The risk of visual impairment is carried almost as an afterthought with some conditions – diabetes for one.

A lot of statistics will be bandied about in National Eye Health Week (Sept 23-29) as charities, optometrists, specialist medics and support groups, stand shoulder to shoulder to eradicate avoidable sight loss.

It’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that each and every statistic is a person – directly affected, along with family, friends, and colleagues, by the loss of something most will have previously taken for granted. Their sight.

Some will have had little choice in the matter. They may have been blinded by accident or on a path shaped by DNA design.

 But if you take one message away from NEHW make it this – 50 per cent of sight loss is avoidable.

There are changes you can make.  Now. Stop smoking, protect your eyes, eat the right food, curb the booze, maintain a healthy weight, take exercise, avoid those illnesses that could be incurred by any combination of the above. And check your family history.

Above all, get in the habit of having your eyes tested regularly – at least every two years, more frequently if advised. Eyes may not be the windows of the soul, but they reflect what’s happening within – those tell-tale signs of a range of health issues.  Surely, the fact that not all of them will be related to your eyesight is a win-win.

That’s why it’s important to make eye testing a routine rather than just a reaction when YOU think things could be amiss.  It could already be too late. We’re not the experts.  Our GPs and our optometrists are – they are first line of defence.

For those under 16 – and, yes, parents or carers should ensure children should have their eyes tested, it’s not something sandwiched between maths and lunch at school – eye tests are free. They are also free for those 60 and over – and for a raft of other people for various reasons, benefits, qualifying criteria.

They are also often offered FREE by high street opticians – the big-name chains and long-standing independents.  

So, you really Should Have Gone by now … rather than wait until you mistake a fake fur hat for the pet cat. One Lakeland branch of Specsavers is to be applauded for its innovative ‘how many miles’ to your next eye test campaign on the fuel pumps at a petrol station You really can’t miss it when you fill up  - and if you do, you shouldn’t be driving. Now there’s a thought – how would you cope without your car?  Driving, too, is one of those things we most miss – with our sight.

Yet the latest research from the RNIB shows that the numbers of people accessing free NHS sight tests has fallen across Lancashire.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust-based orthoptists and vision screeners – who work out in the community with colleagues elsewhere on an ambitious programme of screening all four- and five-year olds (reception age) for visual problems across Lancashire – report a similar issue. Parents will not always respond to the letter telling them their child has failed the screening so needs a further examination and help – often simple but effective  action – at a time when a squint, lazy eye, double vision or another issue can be remedied before the child’s eye system is fully developed and settled.  There are other parents who may be hard to reach too.

Why? If you know the answer tell us. Inertia, indifference, apprehension, fear?

Lecture over. Back to the stats. Over the coming days you will learn two million people in the UK live with sight loss severe enough to have a significant impact on their lives.  Half of this sight loss is avoidable.

Here in Lancashire more than 41,000 people live with sight loss severe enough to profoundly affect their lives – and that of those around them.

The figure is set to rise by more than 25 per cent by 2030 – unless we do something about it.  That’s just 11 years off.  Time enough to make some changes, surely?

Here in Blackpool Fylde and Wyre some 2.5k are registered with N-Vision. The independent sight loss support charity, established in 1910, covers all three boroughs from coast to deep inland.

It’s one of countless sight loss support charities, big and small, across Lancashire, Cumbria, the North West, doing their bit to raise awareness.

With the best will in the world, N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, would rather you acted now, to safeguard your sight, rather than ended up on the charity’s books at some undefined date in the future.

HALF of ALL sight loss is avoidable.  We can never say it enough. Put bluntly that’s 20,500 people living with sight loss in Lancashire today who could have given it a swerve.

Remember, it’s predicted they will be joined by a further 10,250 by 2030. So, if we’ve got the maths right, that’s 5,125 people who have 11 years, if the damage isn’t already done, to make some changes – and see the bigger picture.

This isn’t about one theme week once a year. It’s about avoiding living with sight loss, and all the associated losses and frustrations, each and every day.

N-Vision, which is based at Squires Gate, Blackpool, will be reinforcing that message with an awareness display on the Mezzanine of Blackpool Victoria Hospital at the start of NEHW – Monday September 23 from 10am to 2pm. (There’s also a big assistive technology exhibition on site at the charity on Friday Sept 27 from 10am to 3pm.)

As ever, the charity’s intrepid Eye Clinic Liaison Officer Linda Sethi, who has supported around 900 people in the last 12 months (11 months if you count the fact she had an eye health scare of her own during the month of February) will be fronting that display, joined by specialist eye medics and those eloquent and utterly committed orthoptists who are making such a difference to children’s futures through the ambitious vision screening programme – and playing a leading role in adult eye care too, particularly with regard to stroke patients.  

“Last year it was a great success,” says Linda. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness not just for patients but staff too. It’s about eye health awareness in general and therefore not restricted to a specific condition.”

The great thing about the team at the Vic is that everyone - within the eye department directorate - is passionate about what they do.  That’s from the head of ophthalmology down. Mr Ahmad Khalil set his heart on becoming an eye surgeon after his own father lost his sight and livelihood – as a teacher – long ago. He remembers how that made him feel - and the impact in the family. As head of ophthalmology he’s set his sights on bringing ‘solutions not problems’ to the team and curb anxiety – and waiting time – for patients.

If that’s not enough, two days after NEHW ends, N-Vision hosts a rather special Royal visitor.

HRH Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, who is married to Prince Edward, is passionate about eradicating avoidable sight loss globally.  

As is each and every member of N-Vision, whether on staff,  the board of trustees, a volunteer, resident of the Princess Alexandra Home, subscriber to the charity’s Talking Newspaper, now 42 years old, or one those 2.5k clients who know they can turn – in their own time  and at their own pace – to N-Vision to support.

It really is time the rest of us saw the bigger picture. It starts with that eye test.  If you need convincing talk to Christine Green, 79, one of N-Vision’s clients, who has wet age-related macular degeneration, the more aggressive form, and dry AMD, which has a gentler pace but can’t be treated.

“I’m not one to do things by halves,” she admits.

Not half!

Five years ago, Christine was diagnosed with stage four melanoma and given a matter of months to live.

“Thanks to a brilliant consultant at Royal Preston – who put me on a clinical trial – I’m still going.”

She was paralysed from the waist down 10 years ago by transverse myelitis. Since then she’s gone from bed-bound to wheelchair to two sticks – now one stick.

Christine says the clinical cancer trial brought “an unexpected bonus” – regular eye assessments.

 “One of those assessments picked up dry macular in my left eye and wet macular in the other. I’ve had 11 intravitreal injections in the right eye.

“The assessments also picked up a cataract. There’s a risk I could go blind if they operate but - with my record – I’m going for it. I’m a fighter. It’s worth a try.

“But I really don’t recommend others do it this way.

“Stick with the high street opticians!  The sooner any health issues – whether eye health or other – are flagged up, the better.

“Don’t learn the hard way.”