272,000 people will have sight loss by 2020

Ahead of World Sight Day, Fighting Blindness CEO KEVIN WHELAN, writes about the impact of sight loss, which is expected to impact 272,000 people in Ireland by 2020.
272,000 people will have sight loss by 2020
Shane Byrne, former Ireland rugby player & Fighting Blindness ambassador. Picture by Shane O'Neill, SON Photographic

WORLD Sight Day takes place on Thursday, October 11 to raise awareness of the impact of living with sight loss.

Approximately 272,000 people in Ireland are expected to be impacted by a visual impairment by 2020 including common conditions like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy, but also those with rare and genetic forms of sight loss.

AMD, for example, affects one in ten over the age of 50 in Ireland.

Sight loss can be a devastating and life-changing experience with the emotional impact profound for the individual affected and their family and friends. In a recent Fighting Blindness membership survey, 71 per cent of respondents acknowledged feelings of anxiety or stress, 62 per cent expressed feelings of fear, and over a third reported being affected by depression as a result of their vision loss.

Vision Conference Retina 2018, a Fighting Blindness annual conference supported by Novartis, took place last Saturday, October 6 in Dublin. Dedicated to the wider community, people living with sight loss and their families come together from all over Ireland to meet leading clinicians and scientists. Attendees learned about the latest research advances into their conditions as well as any current or potential therapies in development. The event also focused on the impact of living with vision impairment whilst also providing a platform for peer support where people shared experiences and discovered what resources are available to them.

For many people attending, breakout sessions on specific conditions were the most highly- anticipated part of the conference. These offered an opportunity to speak in a more intimate setting with expert clinicians and scientists and gain information specific to one’s own situation. They catered for all retinal conditions including AMD, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, inherited retinal degenerations (IRDs), as well as many other eye conditions.

FOCUS ON GENETICS

There are approximately 5,000 people in Ireland affected by inherited retinal degenerations, such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), Usher Syndrome, Stargardt disease and many more.

These diseases are some of the most complicated of all genetic conditions, with more than 260 different genes known to play a role.

Therefore, genetic testing is an important part of a diagnosis for someone affected by an IRD. Target 5000 is a Fighting Blindness national programme that provides clinical assessments, genetic testing and relevant genetic counselling for people living in Ireland with an IRD.

RANGE OF SERVICES

Fighting Blindness is Ireland’s national vision research charity. We have invested over €70 million in more than 90 research projects since our establishment in 1983. The organisation provides free professional counselling and therapeutic services for people and families living with vision impairment. We also offer a number of free information resources including A Guide to Conditions of the Retina and the recently-published A Guide to Age-related Macular Degeneration which are available by emailing research@fightingblindness.ie.

TOP TIPS FOR EYE HEALTH

It is important to note that there are steps that we can all take to protect what sight we have.

1. Have regular eye tests: it is recommended that people have an eye test every two years, or every year if aged over 50.

A regular eye test can identify any early indications of diseases, some of which are treatable if caught early.

2. Don’t smoke: our eyes need oxygen to survive. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream, with the result that less oxygen reaches the eye causing damage to the retina and problems such as AMD and diabetic retinopathy. Quitting smoking can stop damage to the eyes, depending on the severity of the condition.

3. Wear sunglasses: ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s rays can cause damage to our eyes and so it is important to wear sunglasses when in the sun. Check they have a UV factor rating and block 100 per cent of UV rays, and that they carry the CE safety standard.

4. Eat the right food: some foods can help protect against certain eye conditions, like cataracts and AMD, due to the specific nutrients they contain. These nutrients are called lutein or zeaxanthin, and are found in many fruits and vegetables including mango, squash, broccoli, green beans, and spinach.

5. Take regular computer breaks: if using a computer, take frequent breaks from the screen — at least once an hour. Resting the eyes can help you avoid headaches, eye strain and soreness.

More helpful tips can be found at www.retina.ie/eye-health-tips

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