Visual Impairment

There are an estimated 50,120 people living with sight loss in Essex. Of this total, 6,700 are living with severe sight loss (blindness).

Many of us experience a slow deterioration in our eyesight as we get older. This can be frustrating, but there are steps which you can take to protect your eyesight, and to overcome any difficulties which you encounter.

Some people experience a much more significant loss of sight, either from birth, or at some point during their lives. Living without full sight, or with no sight at all, can be a frightening and frustrating experience. You can be left feeling disconnected from the world around you, and encounter significant obstacles to leading a full and active life.

However, there are many devices and services to support you, which can make your living environment better suited to your needs, and to help keep you connected with the rest of the world.

Sight and eye care

A slow deterioration in sight may seem inevitable for many of us as we get older, but need not always be restricting. If you have any concerns about your eye sight, or feel that your sight has deteriorated, you should always consult your GP or an optician. It’s important for everyone to have regular eye tests even from an early age (from the age of two years upwards) to ensure that any problems are identified early.

NHS Choices have a service finder where you can find a list of opticians in your area.

Older people, people who are registered blind or partially-sighted, people with certain medical diagnoses, and people in receipt of certain state benefits are among those who are entitled to free NHS eye tests. To apply, call the Benefits Helpline on 0844 415 3905 and request form HC1.

Main medical conditions causing serious loss of sight

More serious loss of sight can happen as the result of accidents, or from a variety of medical conditions. The most common conditions are:

Macular degeneration is an eye condition which can affect older adults, and results in a loss of vision in the centre of the visual field. It can make it difficult, or sometimes impossible, to read or recognise faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. It affects people in different ways, and at different rates.

Glaucoma affects about two out of every 100 people in the UK who are over 40. It’s important to have your eyes tested regularly, as it this condition is left untreated it can cause blindness. If it is diagnosed and treated early however, damage to your vision can be prevented.

A cataract is a clouding of part of the eye. Vision becomes blurred because the cataract is like a frosted glass. Many people over 60 have some cataract, and the vast majority can be treated successfully.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells at the back of the eye, known as the retina. If it is not treated, it can lead to blindness.

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a diverse group of inherited eye disorders. These eye conditions affect a part of the eye called the retina. RP causes permanent changes to your vision, but how quickly this happens, and how it changes differs between people. These changes may include difficulty with vision in dim light or the dark, and the loss of your side or peripheral vision.