What would you do if you lost your sight? How would it affect your lifestyle, your independence and income? And what impact would it have on your dependents, family and friends?

Most of us don’t think about this often, but once a year, National Eye Health Week (NEHW) helps to focus our thoughts on our eyesight and ways we can look after it better. This year’s National Eye Health Week will take place from 23rd–29th September, promoting the importance of good eye health and the need for regular eye tests for all.

Why worry about eyesight?

We all know about our 5 main senses and their associated body parts:

  • Sight – eyes
  • Hearing – ears
  • Taste – tongue
  • Smell – nose
  • Touch – skin

Without any one of these, our interpretation and understanding of the world would be limited, but vision is what people fear losing the most; yet many of us don’t know how to look after our eyes. National Eye Health Week aims to change all that, and statistics about the state of the nation’s sight, make ‘eye-opening’ reading.

  • 13.8 million people in the UK could be at risk of avoidable sight loss because they fail to have regular eye tests1
  • Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss yet over half of sight loss can be avoided2
  • Sight loss affects people of all ages2
  • The number of people in the UK with sight loss is forecast to rise by 30% by 20303
  • A sight test easily detects the early signs of eye conditions such as glaucoma, which can be treated if found early enough
  • During any sight test, other health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure may be detected

NEHW aims to raise awareness of the importance of having regular eye tests and inspire people to make healthier lifestyle choices that benefit their eye health. It’s run in conjunction with The Eyecare Trust and has official partners and supporting organisations in the business and charity sectors. The official website, at visionmatters.org.uk, is full of information, downloadable resources and ideas to help you make the most of the week and have a positive impact. The official hashtags are #EyeWeek and #VisionMatters and you can register for a free resource pack by sending your name, position, organisation and postal address to info@visionmatters.org.uk.

6 tips to look after young children’s eyes

  1. Get tested. Everyone should have an eye test at least every 2 years. It’s a common misconception that children’s eyesight cannot be accurately checked until they can read, but a child’s eyes can be tested from birth. Regular tests can ensure that any problems are identified early, and childhood conditions such as squint, lazy eye (amblyopia), short-sightedness (myopia) or long-sightedness (hyperopia) are picked up early, allowing for the best treatment outcome. Eye tests are free for all children under 16 and adult tests are inexpensive.
  2. Eat a rainbow. We’ve all heard about the importance of eating a balanced diet and how colourful fruits and vegetables can help maintain a healthy weight, increase resistance to disease and provide optimum energy, but young eyes also need the correct nutrients to ensure healthy development too. Tomatoes, melons, grapes and blueberries are packed with eye-friendly nutrients, as are proteins such as eggs, chicken and fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel). Whole grains are good too. And don’t forget carrots – most of us are told early on that carrots can help eyesight because carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin are just a few veggies that are packed with beta-carotene; an essential precursor for Vitamin A, needed for eye health.
  3. Protect your eyes from the sun. The lens at the front of young children’s eyes is very clear so can let in more damaging sunlight. Always protect children’s eyes with sunglasses whenever the UV index rises above 3, and check their sunglasses have a CE;UV 400 or British Standard Mark to ensure the correct level of protection.
  4. Go outside. Research shows that time spent playing outside can help prevent the onset and progression of short-sightedness in children4, so make time to go outside every day.
  5. Act on advice. Follow the advice of the child’s eye care practitioner such as when and when not to wear glasses.
  6. Stimulate the senses. Children’s eyes continue to develop from birth until the age of about eight, so stimulating visual engagement by using high contrast toys and mirrors, and playing games such as peekaboo can help. You can also encourage good hand-eye coordination by playing throwing and catching games, using building blocks, colouring and mark-making.

For adults, advice also includes the importance of reducing alcohol consumption, stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, since these factors affect eye health too.

How to get involved in Eye Health Week

There are many ways to get involved. You can organise your own event or see what other events are being held in your area. You could:

  • Tell your parents, staff, friends and colleagues about the week and ask them when they last had an eye test
  • Make a display about eyes; take photos of eyes, or draw pictures and make an interesting collage including some facts and figures
  • Organise an event such as:
                 1. a quiz with lots of questions about eyes
                 2. a lunch with healthy foods to help eyesight
                 3. bring your ‘sunnies’ to nursery day
                 4. get outdoors to celebrate the day, but remember your sunscreen, hats and sunglasses
  • Invite an optician to come in and speak to the children, parents and staff
  • Add information to your social media sites or send one of the pre-prepared tweets available from the website
  • Run a session on what it might be like to lose your sight: get the children to do some simple things wearing a blindfold and explain to them the importance of looking after their eyes at the same time

Let us know what you do and look after those peepers!

References:
Eye Health UK
Access Economics (2009)
RNIB
JAMA. 2015;314(11):1142-1148. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.10803

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