New research: Australians neglecting eye health despite 97% experiencing issues

New findings from Optometry Australia have revealed 97% of Australians are experiencing at least one eye related issue, raising concerns among optometrists about the health and wellbeing of Australians’ eyes.

The newly released 2022 Vision Index provides a snapshot of eye health across the country and identifies trends following the inaugural 2020 Index.

The Index found that while three in four Australians value vision as their most important sense, eye health issues have increased since 2020 and many have not seen an optometrist ever (13%) or within the last two years (26%).

Dry eyes, itchy eyes, dots in vision and difficulty seeing things far away were the most common eye issues reported by respondents; each issue respectively increasing in comparison to the 2020 Vision Index.

Respondents with myopia (short-sightedness) had increased to 40%, up 3% from 2020, and in line with predictions that over 50% of the global population will have the condition by 2050.

Luke Arundel, optometrist and Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry Australia said the 2022 Index has revealed some troubling trends whereby Australians are neglecting important preventative care to ensure they maintain good vision for life.

“While some of the problems may initially seem benign, they can be precursors to more serious issues if left unattended.

“There have been sweeping lifestyle changes between the two reports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as most of us have experienced lockdowns of varying lengths depending on where you are in Australia.

“The Index revealed, 42% had increased screen time over the past 12 months while 52% of respondents said they spend from four to eight hours on their screens daily. Almost one-third (31%) said their eye health has been negatively impacted by increased screen time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Increased screen time can have implications for our eyes, with issues such as tired, sore, strained eyes, dry eyes and headaches commonly reported,” said Mr Arundel.

Mr Arundel also noted significant concern that 27% of Australians are squinting to see road signs at night, “which could pose an obvious risk to drivers and the community,” he said.

Consistent with the 2020 Vision Index this year’s survey found that 13% of respondents have never had an eye exam with an optometrist.

Of this cohort, 29% have neglected an assessment as they believe their vision is perfect, 28% because they believe it is too expensive and 15% because they are afraid of the results.

“The data is telling us that a group of Australians, particularly young people, are avoiding the optometrist for all the wrong reasons. Eye exams attract a Medicare rebate and treatment is always more effective – and less of a personal and financial burden – if we can address problems early. As for being afraid of the results, things may be worse if left unattended,” said Mr Arundel.

Of the 86% who have had their eyes checked, 26% had their last visit to an optometrist in 2019 or earlier. Almost one in three (31%) had to postpone an appointment due to COVID restrictions.

“Regular trips to the optometrist every two to three years are essential to maintain healthy eyes, even if individuals believe they have perfect vision and no symptoms. Many eye diseases and conditions do not show symptoms and when they do, often it is too late to treat them effectively.

“COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have made visits challenging over the past two years, but optometrists are now fully operational across Australia and working with stringent infection control protocols.

“Visiting an optometrist is essential care as studies have shown that 90% of vision loss is preventable with early treatment, so now is a great time to reschedule those appointments,” continued Mr Arundel.

Australians can use the Find an Optometrist search tool to locate their nearest optometrist and book an appointment today.

The 2022 Vision Index was conducted via an online survey by Empirica Research on behalf of Optometry Australia. The survey sampled 1,000 demographically representative Australians from 25 February 2022 to 3 March 2022.

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