Look up your eye health for World Sight Day

Our vision is one of the most valuable things we have, but the latest stats suggest we’re not doing enough to maintain it.

The latest statistics from Optometry Australia show that 53% of Australians haven’t had their eyes tested, even if their GP recommended it. The cost of vision disorders to our economy is a staggering $9.85 billion every year, according to the Australian Department of Health.

Every year on World Sight Day (October 8), the focus is on eye health and how to take care of your eyes. So we’re here to tell you why you need to get your eyes and your children’s eyes checked today, and the top 10 things you can do to maintain your eye health.

Line of sight in Australia

Almost 1 in 2 Aussies – around 12 million Aussies – have long-term eye conditions. Surprised it’s so many? Think of how many people you know who wear glasses for things like short-sightedness or a stigmatism, or grandparents you know who have had cataracts removed.

Surveys by OPSM show 86% of us rank loss of sight as our number one health concern. If we do the right thing, we don’t need to be afraid. 75% of vision loss is preventable or treatable, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

However, if we don’t get our eyes checked, how will we know that something is wrong that needs to be prevented or treated?

Optometry Australia’s President, Kate Gifford, points out that eye disorders and diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts can be hugely debilitating. Even common short- and long-sightedness, if not adequately treated, can significantly impact a person’s wellbeing.

Top 10 ways to take care of your eyes

1. Get an eye check-up

As you grow, your eyesight changes naturally. It’s vital that you get an eye check-up every 2 years to check that everything still looks as it should. We know we have to go to the dentist regularly to take care of our teeth – so why should our eyes not get to see the optometrist just as regularly?

What to expect during an eye check-up:

  • A thorough case history – the optometrist asks you about any previous eye injuries or vision disorders in your family that might cause a problem for you.
  • Internal eye examination – the optometrist or their assistant takes a photograph of your eye that sees through your cornea and deep inside.
  • External eye examination – a machine blows a tiny puff of air at each eyeball to check its strength.
  • A test of how clearly you see – can you read the bottom line on the eye chart?
  • How well your eyes work together as a team – the optometrist may ask you to follow a moving light or other object with your eyes.
  • How well you see colour – are the red or green lines wider? To find your local optometrist, use Optometry Australia’s tool to find an optometrist.

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2. Get an eye check-up for your kids

Optometry Australia’s President, Kate Gifford, says, “Children often suffer eye disorders without knowing it, impacting their education, social and physical development.

“And alarmingly, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples have six times the rates of blindness as non-Indigenous Australians and three times the rates of vision loss.”

Getting your child’s eyes tested at any optometrist in Australia: Free.

Finding out your kid needs glasses before they start failing their exams: Priceless.

You can also take your kids through the Child and Youth Health guide to taking care of your eyes.

3. Look away from the screen

Too many of us work on a computer for 8 hours a day, then plonk ourselves down in front of the TV or our computers for another 3 hours before bed. That’s a lot of screen time in one day – and many of us do it five days a week!

This is pretty much murder for your eyes. Case study – when I was in law school, my eyes went from a -1.5 and -2.5 prescription to -3.5 and -4.75. Don’t even ask what they’ve done since I graduated…

Why are screens so bad, I hear you ask? Two main reasons:

  • You blink 60% less often when you’re looking at any kind of electronic screen. This dries your eyes out and makes the focussing muscles get tired faster.
  • Computer screens make you focus at short range. When you focus at short range for too long, your eyeball literally can’t stretch as far, so it gets shorter – and you become short-sighted. Herald the arrival of Harry Potter glasses.

Experts say we need to look up at least every half hour, and spent at least 1 minute using our distance vision. This helps our eyes to re-moisten and stay in shape.

Also, keep the room you’re in well lit, so your eyes aren’t straining to focus on a screen against a dark backdrop.

4. Sun safety for your eyes

Wearing sunglasses and a hat is vital to protect your eyes and prevent blindness. Don’t just use any old sunglasses – they should have UV protection that meets the Australian standard.

In fact, any bright light will hurt your eyes. This includes flashes of lightning, and the big floodlights that they use at rock concerts and sporting arenas, so don’t look straight into the light.

5. Donate to save someone else’s eyes and fight poverty

You can literally save a life by donating to a charity that treats eye conditions, provides glasses, and provides aids and education for the blind. All of these things mean that a child living in poverty can learn, and an adult living in poverty can work to provide for their family.

Two great charities that you can donate to are The Fred Hollows Foundation and Christian Blind Mission International. You can even donate your old glasses when you go to the optometrist for your check-up! These charities will use the old frames to make new glasses for people who really need them.

6. Wear your glasses, use your eye drops

If your optometrist or GP prescribes eye drops to keep your eyes moist while you’re dealing with a temporary issue, use the drops as often as they told you to. Do not use anybody else’s eye drops, as they can infect your eyes.

Don’t wear other people’s glasses, as this forces your eyes to focus in a way that they are not designed to.

If you’ve got glasses, make sure you actually use them. Use your reading glasses when you’re reading a book, or your phone, or a computer screen. Use your long-distance glasses whenever you need to see things in the distance, like when you’re driving, sitting in lecture theatres, or even out on a walk in the park.

7. Avoid eye injuries

If you play sports or work in a physically hazardous job like construction or retail, watch out for your eyes. An injury could seriously damage your sight and even send you blind.

When you’re mowing the lawn, pick up stones and twigs before you start, so nothing can get flicked up and into your eye.

8. Keep chemicals out of your eyes

If you get something in your eye, don’t rub at it – wash it out with lots and lots of clean water. Eye safety at work and around the home includes keeping away from chemicals that can seriously damage your eyes. You should be careful when using household or industrial cleaning products, and use eye goggles to protect your eyes if you can.

9. Only put healthy things in your body

Eating a diet with lots of fruit and vegetables can give you a lot of nutrients and vitamins that can keep your eyes healthy and reduce the risk of eye disease.

Smoking and drinking alcohol can destroy your eyesight surprisingly quickly. And it’s good for your health to quit smoking and drink less, anyway!

10. Choose extras cover

Choosing Extras Cover in your health insurance can be a good incentive to get along to the optometrist more often. Extras cover should give you back part of the cost of getting glasses or contact lenses.

You’ll want to make sure you actually get your money’s worth by using your extras cover to get new glasses or contact lenses every year – which guarantees that you will get your eyes checked regularly.

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