Are you taking positive steps to protect your sight? Regular sight tests are essential for maintaining healthy eyes.

According to the Irish College of Ophthalmologists, 75% of vision loss cases can be prevented when detected and treated early and a regular eye test can identify early indications of eye diseases.

Healthy adults who do not notice anything obviously wrong with their eyes should still have their eyes tested every two years. If you have a family history of eye problems or have diabetes you should have an examination every year.

Types of Vision

If you are short-sighted (myopic) you need glasses to see in the distance, like for driving, TV or the blackboard in school. If you are long-sighted (hyperopic), you have difficulty seeing things up close.

Astigmatism means that your eyes are rugby-ball shaped rather than round. This means that what you are looking at can seem distorted. Astigmatism can cause blurred vision and headaches.

Presbyopia happens when we get older and our ability to refocus the eyes up close gets weaker. People with presbyopia will need glasses to help them read and do close work.

Your optometrist will carry out an eye test to see what type lenses suit your eyes best.

Some people also opt for laser surgery to permanently correct their vision.

Opticians also detect ocular abnormalities and if a disease or condition of the eye is present to refer the person on to a medical practitioner.

Common eye conditions

Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye. Vision becomes hazy because light no longer passes through easily.

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve (the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain). It is caused when pressure in the eye builds up because the eye’s usual drainage capability becomes blocked.

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – wet and dry. Dry is the most common and occurs due to age related wear and tear of the central retina which can lead to blurring of central vision. Wet AMD is more severe involving fluid leakage from blood vessels under the retina.

Keeping your eyesight healthy

  • Smoking increases the risk of developing cataracts and after ageing, smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing AMD.
  • Some eye conditions like glaucoma can be hereditary, so know your family eye health history.
  • Wear sunglasses that carry the CE European safety standard mark.
  • Take a break from your computer screen at least every hour to allow your eyes to rest.
  • Have regular eye check-ups.
  • Eat foods rich in antioxidants like kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, orange sweet peppers, oranges, oily fish and eggs.
  • Preventing eye injuries on the farm

    Appropriate eye protection must be worn when doing dangerous tasks. Eyewash stations should be available where there is a risk of chemical injury, for example. You should wear goggles when strimming, angle grinding, chainsawing etc. You should seek medical advice immediately if you notice changes in vision such as :

  • Sudden spots.
  • Flashes of light.
  • Distortions or wavy lines.
  • Haloes around lights.
  • Double vision.
  • Shadows, black spots or blurriness in central or peripheral (side) vision.
  • Don’t forget: With specific numbers of PRSI contributions, you can avail of a free eyesight test and get basic lenses and frames free also every two years via the Department of Social Protection’s Treatment Benefit Scheme. Your optician will need your PPS number to check your eligibility.

    Listen up: mind your hearing

    Many people get locked out of life by not being able to hear properly; not being able to enjoy social situations, join conversations and losing touch with friends and family life. Hearing aids can make all the difference in these situations.

    However, Irish people are not great at facing up to the fact that they can’t hear well anymore, says Brendan Lennon of CHIME, the national charity for deafness and hearing loss.

    “Some people have trouble accepting ageing and the hearing loss that goes with it, but not using hearing aids leads to a poorer quality of life and cognitive decline over time.

    “In the TILDA Longitudinal Study on Ageing, only one in five people who declared a hearing loss had hearing aids and typically only got those as a last resort. There is stigma around wearing hearing aids unfortunately which we need to get over.

    “Farmers are particularly prone to deafness, due to noise damage from daily contact with machines. If you’re spending hours in a tractor or a milking parlour every day, over years it will lead to noise damage. So looking after one’s hearing is even more important on Irish farms,” says Brendan.

    So what can get us over the reluctance to use hearing aids when we need them?

    You don’t wear hearing aids all the time. You put them on when you need them (usually to hear in social situations).

    Hearing aids are now high-tech, mini-computers not old ‘whistlers’.

    “Some people have the view that hearing aids aren’t any good, but they are usually referring to someone in a previous generation who struggled with old analogue hearing aids that weren’t very good. Hearing aids are not like that now” Brendan says.

    Farmers often think of hearing aids as ‘tiny things that are too expensive, but remember that the cost includes fitting (and adjusting) visits, cleaning and follow-up service.

    Good news – financial help

    Farmers didn’t have any entitlements to hearing aid grants until recently.

    Now, any self-employed person with enough PRSI contributions can get a grant of €1,000 towards a pair of hearing aids, every four years. Look up the Treatment Benefit Scheme online.

    Think of hearing aids as being available in three categories.

    What you need to buy depends more on your lifestyle than on your degree of hearing loss.

    When having a hearing test:

  • Be wary of overselling or being pressured into buying a more expensive hearing aid than you need.
  • Think about your lifestyle and the situations that you want to be able to hear better in – the pub, dining out, watching TV etc.
  • Be patient and persevere. It can take time to get used to hearing aids.
  • Be open to learning how to use them.