How valuable is your sight to you? What would you do if one day you lost your sight, or your vision became blurred, and there was something you could have done to prevent this from happening?

The South African National Council for the Blind says the prevalence of sight disability in South Africa is the highest of all disabilities (32%).

According to WHO, an estimated 253 million people worldwide live with vision impairment (36 million are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment). WHO says 84% of visual impairment results from chronic eye diseases. The opportunity though is that 1.4 million children could benefit from vision rehabilitation.

SANCB reveals that the top three causes of blindness worldwide are: cataract (39.1%), uncorrected refractive errors (18.2%) and glaucoma (10.1%).

The National Eye Institute writes that there are many things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and make sure you are seeing your best. To ensure that your eyes stay an important part of your health, the NEI offers these steps to maintain healthy eyes.

1. Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
A dilated eye exam at an eye care professional (such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist) is the only way to detect eye diseases in their early stages. According to the NEI, many common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration have no warning signs. In the exam, the eye care professional gets a good look at the back of the eyes and examine them for any signs of damage or disease.

2. Know your family’s eye health history.
Many eye diseases or conditions are hereditary, so knowing the eye health history of your family members will help determine if you are a higher risk for developing the same.

3. Eat right to protect your sight.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but especially dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale is important for keeping your eyes healthy. The NEI offers that research has also shown eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma.

5. Wear protective eyewear.
Protective eyewear may be required as part of your job, but is also important for when you play sports or do certain activities around the house. Wearing sunglasses is just as important to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

6. Give your eyes a rest.
Try the 20-20 rule if you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on doing one particular thing. Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for about 20 seconds. This will help reduce eye strain.

Vision 2020 is an initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO) launched in 1999 to eliminate the causes of preventable blindness by the year 2020.

As part of this programme, 10 eye clinics were opened in February this year in Soweto and surrounding areas in a public-private partnership with the Gauteng Department of Health.

In her keynote address, the Chief Director in the Johannesburg Health District, Ms Mogeru Morewante, said to enable GDoH to achieve the prescripts of Vision 2020, it is imperative that people are educated on the importance of eye health and screening to avoid complications in later stages.

She added that the Department is promoting and emphasising the principle of ‘prevention is better than cure’, encouraging the following measures:

  • Have your eyes tested by an optometrist or ophthalmologist every second year.
  • If you have risk factors such as hypertension and / or diabetes, test your eyes once a year or more frequently, if required.
  • Engage in healthy lifestyle activities like physical activity and healthy eating to prevent eye related systemic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

If you have any concerns about your vision, make a plan today to get your eyes tested. You can also speak to your local pharmacist or local healthcare practitioner.