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This may seem like a rather bold claim; it is, however, absolutely true.

Routine checks
A routine eye examination will of course check any visual issues an individual may have and provide a prescription for corrective glasses or contact lenses. More than this, it will also enable the optometrist to consider the health of the eye itself – checking for signs of conditions like glaucoma and cataracts. What may be less obvious, however, is that an eye examination can tell the optometrist a great deal about the overall health of the individual and about systemic conditions, not even related to eyesight.

Spotting the signs
The role an optometrist can play in detecting illnesses that can threaten life or sight is in spotting signs of certain conditions. For instance, an optometrist would not diagnose a brain tumour as such, but they may spot the symptoms of a brain tumour, like swollen optic nerves, or a shadow that shows up on the optometrist’s fundus (retina) camera. Optometrists often identify symptoms of high blood pressure, or signs that someone may have had a stroke.

In layman’s terms: There are blood vessels throughout the body. Certain illnesses and conditions, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid problems cause changes to these blood vessels, like thickening, narrowing or bursting. Using a small torch-like instrument called an ophthalmoscope, the optometrist can view the small blood vessels (capillaries) at the back of the eye. Changes in these capillaries are highly likely to reflect changes in other parts of the body. The difference being, that to view them in the rest of the body requires invasive procedures, while viewing them on the retina is simple and painless.

Early diagnosis
While many of these conditions will eventually cause symptoms, they are often not apparent until they have become more serious symptoms. Viewing the small blood vessels at the back of the eye can enable the optometrist to detect indicators at a much earlier stage, so that the individual may be sent for further investigation.

Real-life cases
Indeed, in Specsavers optometrists alone detect signs of at least 120 life- or sight-threatening conditions per year. For example, one optometrist identified fluid behind a patient’s eyes and immediately referred her to hospital for an urgent check. She was found to have Intracranial Hypertension – abnormally high pressure within the skull, which, in acute cases, can be fatal without immediate treatment.

Existing provision
This just goes to show how truly vital eye care can be. The beauty is that most employers are probably already providing eye care anyway. The Display Screen Equipment regulations mean that all screen users should be offered company-funded eye care. Add to these, those who are offered eye care because they drive for work purposes, wear prescription safety eyewear, or are simply offered eye care as a benefit, and there are likely to be very few employees who are not already provided with eye care.

Reducing the strain
Life-saving cases do occur relatively regularly but, even at a more basic level, eye care can have a very positive effect. Helping to reduce issues like eyestrain, tiredness and headaches, eye care can support the overall health and wellbeing of staff and aid productivity.

It is time employers opened their eyes to the full potential of eye care.

Jim Lythgow – Director of Strategic Alliances, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare

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