It is never too early to begin checking children’s eyes, especially if there is a family history of eye disease which puts them at greater risk of developing a similar problem.
And the first eight years of a child’s life are critical for eye development because if problems are not picked up during this time, damage and vision loss can be permanent.
Eye disease is a very real problem but the Eye Foundation advises that 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable or treatable if it is detected early enough. Despite this, as a nation we are slow in having our eyes checked with the result that every 65 minutes an Australian loses part or all of their vision.
We often don’t value eye health as much as other health issues for children, with research showing Australian parents could be putting their children’s eyesight at risk as only 9 per cent believe their child’s eyesight is the most important aspect of their health.
The best known eye disease is glaucoma which generally does not become apparent until we are older. This disease is one which can often be detected through testing. Despite this, about 300,000 Australians are affected by glaucoma but because there is usually no pain, and loss of sight is gradual, many people – perhaps as many as 50 per cent – are just not aware that they have a very serious problem.
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases characterised by damage caused to the optic nerve at the rear of the eye when pressure in the eyeball rises from the build-up of fluid. This build-up occurs because too much fluid is formed or the canals in the eye, which normally drain the fluid away, don’t work as they should.
However, not all eye diseases are as serious as glaucoma and conditions such as red eye, conjunctivitis and dry eye are quite common.
Your community pharmacist can help to find the cause of red eyes or dry eyes and advise on treatment and management of these conditions. They can also advise if you should be seeing a doctor for more specialist treatment or further diagnosis.
Your pharmacist, as the medicines expert, also can help you to select the right treatment for minor eye conditions like conjunctivitis and red eye. Your pharmacist will always refer you to a doctor if they feel your condition requires more attention.
But the message from eye experts is start having eye tests from birth and have a test regularly to give yourself – and your children – the best chance of having healthy eyes.