Home » Health » Why you should view your optician in a new light

Sarah Joyce

Superintendent Optometrist, Asda

An eye test doesn’t only check your vision. It can also pick up general health issues such as hypertension and diabetes — which is why regular eye testing is so crucial.

When was the last time you had your eyes tested? If the answer is ‘not for years’ or, worse, ‘never’, you need to book an appointment with an optometrist.

It’s true that this may be easier said than done during the pandemic; but everyone should have their eyes tested regularly for the good of their vision — but also for the good of their health. Opticians are healthcare providers. It’s just that, because they’re usually located on the high street, patients don’t often view them that way.

“I think most people tend to associate an eye test with buying new glasses or ordering more contact lenses,” says Sarah Joyce, Superintendent Optometrist, at Asda’s headquarters in Leeds. “So, they assume that as long as their sight is OK, they don’t need to bother with them. But the fact is that an optometrist doesn’t simply check a patient’s vision. They will also check the health of their eyes to look for serious conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. By studying the nerves and blood vessels in the eyes, they can also pick up systemic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and even tumours in some cases. That’s why eyes tests are so important.”

Processes and precautions to keep customers safe

During the first lockdown, Asda Opticians — which operates 156 opticians in its stores across the UK — limited appointments to patients who needed urgent care. “That was the right thing to do at the time,” says Joyce, “because it prevented unnecessary travelling and limited person-to-person contact.” But now, even though staff are working through a backlog of patients created by the pandemic, anyone who needs an appointment should be able to book one. “If you’re having to isolate and can’t see the optometrist face-to-face, you should still arrange a telephone consultation so you can be supported and managed in the right way if you are having any problems,” says Joyce.

Another reason why numbers of eye tests have fallen this year is that many patients — and particularly ones in later life — didn’t book appointments for fear of catching the virus. Joyce understands their concern because, as anyone who has visited an optometrist knows, social distancing isn’t an option during the eye test itself.

The fact is that an optometrist doesn’t simply check a patient’s vision. They will also check the health of their eyes to look for serious conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

Still, she points out that there are processes and precautions that opticians have put in place to safeguard their customers as much as possible. For example, there are screens in the dispensing areas and on pieces of equipment used in the testing rooms, and strict booking system have been implemented to prevent customers coming into the store to browse for new frames, allowing us to control numbers of customers on department and significant infection control processes

Frequent checks can pick up age-related eye conditions

The bottom line is that regular eye testing is essential for all. Take glaucoma, because it progresses slowly it’s not uncommon for patients to be unaware that they have it — and, if left untreated, it can cause blindness. Similarly, frequent checks can pick up macular degeneration, be it the wet type (the most serious kind) or the dry type. Catching it early enough may save your sight.

“The key with glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts is regular testing,” says Joyce. “Or if you notice symptoms such as an eye that is red or painful, or you have any changes in your vision — such as loss of vision, double vision, distortion in your vision or flashing lights — then make an appointment to see your optometrist immediately. Also, when you ring to make a booking, let them know so you can be triaged with the appropriate urgency. But do something about it. Don’t ignore it, quick intervention will always lead to the best outcome.”

Find out more at opticians.asda.com

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