This World Sight Day hear from Ophthalmic Director, Jude Edwards

Specsavers embRACE network recently had an opportunity to catch up with Jude Edwards, Ophthalmic Director of Specsavers Opticians and Hearing Centres Abington Street, Weston Favell and Weedon Road.

As a core Committee Retail member of the embRACE network, Jude talks about World Sight Day, highlighting its importance to the public and diverse cultures in particular. Jude’s Northampton practice (Abington Street) recently won the coveted 2021 Covid Hero’s Award and most recently has also been shortlisted for the 2022 Multiple Practice of the Year Award.

What is World Sight Day?

World Sight Day is a global sight awareness event that is held on the second Thursday of October every year, designed to focus on sight, vision impairment, blindness and the importance of good eye care. This year it falls on Thursday 13th October, with an impassioned theme to “Love Your Eyes” set by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that nearly 2.2 billion people have a visual impairment, some of which could have been avoided or in some cases prevented altogether. Almost everyone on planet Earth will encounter eye health problems at some stage in their lives but sadly, over a billion of us do not have adequate access to eye care services.

Why is embRACE getting involved?

Part of our responsibilities as clinicians is to provide patient education on good eye health. Celebrating Black History Month in October, gives us an opportunity to further raise awareness of the importance of eye care and eye health within diverse communities. Well-documented links between certain eye conditions and certain health conditions can be seen to be more prevalent in certain demographics, especially ethnic minorities. Some of these include:

  • Diabetes: particularly common amongst African, Caribbean and Asian cultures through rich diet and hereditary tendencies, Diabetic retinopathy can lead to damage of the retina, causing vessel leakage, protein deposition and partial retinal infarcts amongst others. In advance stages this can eventually lead to permanent sight loss, born out of a combination of poor management, poor diet, exercise and lack of regular eye checks to monitor the condition. By addressing some of these issues, many people could avoid or drastically reduce the impact of diabetes on their eye health. The WHO estimates the presence of worldwide diabetes has quadrupled since 1980 from 108 million to 463 million. With 33% of diabetic patients having some form of retinopathy of concern, it is also estimated that approximately 10% will develop sight-threatening eye disease.
  • Glaucoma: refers to a group of conditions which is fundamentally characterised by irreversible damage to the optic nerve. The two main types of glaucoma are:
    • primary open angle glaucoma (POAG); and
    • primary angle closure glaucoma (PACG).

Other less common categories are secondary glaucoma, nicknamed “the silent thief of sight” as most patients will not know they have the condition.  Well documented risk factors for developing glaucoma include a higher prevalence in the Black and ethnic minority communities, family history, high intraocular pressure (IOP) and ageing.

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD is the gradual and broadly irreversible degeneration of the macula (the central section of the retina responsible for central vision). The main risk factors include age, family history and smoking. UV light and diet associated with cardiovascular disease has recently been extensively  researched to be a risk factor. The two categories of AMD are:
    • dry AMD; and
    • wet AMD.

Dry AMD is the most common, accounting for the majority of cases and takes years to progress. Sadly, there is currently no treatment or cure for this, and 10-15% of sufferers go on to develop wet AMD.

Wet AMD is characterised by abnormal blood vessels growing into the central retina from the layer underneath, which then leaks blood and fluid, causing retinal scarring. This is the fastest and most sight damaging of the two categories. Treatment is available to attempt to slow or stop the progression of the irreversible damage.

What is Myopia and are we in an epidemic?

Myopia (“short sightedness”) is a very common eye condition where an individual cannot see objects that are far away clearly. The rates at which individuals around the world are developing myopia is progressing at an alarming rate which has led to the phrase “myopia as an epidemic”. Myopia develops as the eye’s axial (horizontal) length becomes longer over time, causing the eye to have a short-sighted blur. The longer the length becomes, the more myopic the eye becomes. It is predicted that 50% of the world’s population will have myopia by 2050.

In the UK alone, the Association of Optometrists (AOP) has stated the presence of myopia has more than doubled in the last 50 years. In 2019, the WHO released its first ever report on the phenomenon of myopia as an epidemic, following extensive research over many years and with data from many countries and across various classes of myopia as a disease. Those with increasing myopia have an exponential risk of retinal detachments, glaucoma and myopic macular degeneration, alongside other less sight threatening conditions. Aside from family history, it has also been well documented that new modern sedentary lifestyles with devices and screens, combined with spending much less time outdoors than previous generations, is significantly contributing to this epidemic. Whilst glasses, contact lenses and laser surgery is available to correct myopia, structurally, myopia still exists and the risks still remain.

But there is hope. Myopia progression in some young children and teenagers does not stop with the above corrections. New treatments to slow down progressive myopia is now available in the form of myopia management contact lenses and spectacle lenses and Specsavers is at the forefront of offering these services to our customers.

How can we slow down the myopic epidemic?

There are many ways to slow down progressive myopia and its risk factors and many Optometrists recommend a combination of the following:

  • Spending time outdoors (at least 2 hours per day).
  • Adopting the “20/20/20” best practice during computer use. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to rest the eyes.
  • Using screens and devices (including mobile phones) less during the day and evening.
  • For children in particular, consider discussing myopia management with your optometrist/eye healthcare provider.

Other tips to good eye health include:

  • Eating a good healthy diet of vegetables, especially leafy greens to help retinal and macular function and protection.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Visiting your optometrist for an eye exam at least once every 2 years.
  • Using your glasses as per your Optometrist’s advice if prescribed them.
  • If you wear glasses, ensure you have an ultraclear filter applied to them to enhance your vision and visual comfort (as well as reducing distracting surface reflections), especially from light sources such as computers, mobile devices, TVs, headlights and street lights.
  • Wearing sunglasses as appropriate to protect the eyes from UV damage.
  • Consider stopping smoking to promote eye health.

Where can I get more information about World Sight Day and General Eye Health?

  1. More information about World Sight Day and general eye health can be found via our Specsavers website
  2. For further details about World Sight Day, please visit The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB):
  3. For the latest statistics and details about eyecare, vision impairment and blindness produced by the World Health Organisation, click here.
  4. Finally, if you or anyone you know has any concerns about their eye health (including increased blurry vision, eye strains, headaches or changes to their eye sight), visit you nearest Eye Clinician for a full check-up.

You can read more about Jude Edwards and Retail Partner, Mukesh Patel’s Covid Hero’s Award here.

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