The second Thursday of October is World Sight Day. Organised by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), this campaign aims to raise awareness and to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment, as well as raise money in order to provide crucial treatment for those without access.
36 million people worldwide are blind, whilst a further 217 million people live with moderate or severe distance vision impairment. In the UK, over 2 million people are blind or live with sight loss.
It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people in the UK living with sight loss will rise to over 2.25 million, and will be almost 4 million by 2050.
The main causes of visual impairment in the UK are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
Age-related macular degeneration
This is an eye condition affecting the central part of your retina which is called the macula. Damage caused by this condition will lead to deterioration in your central vision
Glaucoma is an eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative to prevent significant irreversible loss of vision, which can occur quickly following onset of the condition.
Cataracts cause changes to the lens in your eye which make your sight cloudy. This condition can be corrected through surgery to replace the natural lens, although surgery is not risk free and can lead to complications.
This is becoming a more prevalent cause of sight loss. The condition is usually bilateral and causes damage to the blood vessels within the retina. Once damage has been caused, the sight loss is irreversible. Patients with diabetes should have regular eye tests and diabetic retinal screenings to check whether retinopathy is developing.
The IAPB have found that four out of every five people with visual impairment suffer from “avoidable blindness”.
Avoidable blindness is defined as blindness which could be either treated or prevented by known, cost-effective means. A significant number of people are suffering on a daily basis because of a condition that could have been prevented by earlier diagnosis and treatment. In some cases this will be because the patient has not sought specialist advice when experiencing changes in their vision. In other cases, however, visual impairment may not be the fault of the patient at all, but could have been caused by a delay in referring for treatment, missed diagnosis or negligently performed surgery, or there may have been a problem with the medical device used during treatment.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “We acted for a client who experienced changes in his vision. He attended his GP straightaway because he thought something was wrong and his GP agreed, suspecting wet age-related macular degeneration. The GP told our client that he would be referred to an ophthalmic surgeon for treatment. However, the referral was not sent for four months, which caused our client’s vision to deteriorate. He suffered near total irreversible loss of central vision in his left eye and now must live for the rest of his life with this impairment.
“We also acted for a client who attended hospital for surgery during which the anaesthetist maintained his blood pressure below the normal surgical benchmarks for an excessively long period. This caused our client to suffer optic nerve ischaemia where the blood supply at the back of his eye was irreparably damaged. He has suffered significant loss of vision as a result and has been unable to continue working at the high level he achieved before the surgery. He now has to rely heavily on his wife for care and assistance on a daily basis.
“In both cases, had our clients received acceptable care from their treating doctors, they would not have suffered these devastating injuries.”
Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has also seen cases where patients have suffered visual injuries because of product defects. In one example, a patient who used contact lenses to correct her vision contracted a severe corneal infection because her contact lenses were contaminated with bacteria. The infection caused a significant visual injury. The manufacturer had recalled the lenses due to contamination and they were, therefore, defective. Had it not been for the manufacturer distributing a defective medical product, the patient would not have suffered the visual injury.
Even if you do not experience symptoms, it is very important to have your eyes tested regularly to ensure there are no conditions developing. The IAPB recommends eye examinations at least once every year. If you do experience any changes in your vision, you should see your optometrist or doctor as soon as possible.
If you, a family member or a friend have any concerns regarding a form of eye treatment, please contact our specialist team who may be able to assist.