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One million Australians suffer vision loss in one eye

07/02/2018By Matthew Woodley
According to a new study by the Centre for Eye Research Australia around one million Australians with unilateral vision loss are in need of regular eye examinations in order to protect against potential blindness.

PhD candidate Dr Josh Foreman conducted the research, based on results from the National Eye Health Survey, and said he believes there had previously been only minimal investigation into the area.

“It’s important to quantify exactly how many people or what the prevalence is, because it hasn’t really been prioritised in most of the research. Even if you look at global systematic reviews on the burden of vision loss, none of them actually include any measures of unilateral vision loss – it’s all bilateral,” Foreman explained to Insight.

Foreman said this lack of targeted research was despite the fact that unilateral vision loss could significantly impact people’s lives, affecting their visual fields and depth perception.

“People are at greater risk of personal injury, falls, and motor vehicle accidents and the like. This then results in them having a greater dependency on others, and there’s also evidence of a reduction in quality of life and higher levels of mental and physical health problems,” he said.

“This actually represents a really important population subset that should be prioritised in population eye health service delivery programs.”

"To keep up with the needs of the population, we need to take a very versatile and multifaceted approach to improving eye healthcare service delivery."
Josh Foreman, PhD candidate

Aside from the issues associated with unilateral vision loss, Foreman also said it was often a warning sign of more serious eye health issues that could eventually affect both eyes.

“People with unilateral vision impairment and blindness often have that impairment as a result of conditions that are bilateral by their very nature. It may be cataracts or diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma that have actually caused that unilateral vision loss and in our cross sectional snapshot, we just happened to find these people with unilateral vision loss,” Foreman said.

“But they are at serious risk of progressing to bilateral blindness, because these conditions are often progressive, so it’s important to ensure that people with unilateral vision loss actually undergo regular eye examinations.”

Another outcome of the research was that Indigenous Australians, especially those who lived in remote locations, were more than twice as likely to have unilateral vision loss than non-Indigenous Australians. However, despite the estimated number of Australians with unilateral vision loss passing one million, Foreman said targeted campaigns that focused on people with vision loss in one eye were not the answer.


Instead, he believes a continuation of current eye education programs, combined with improved outreach services will provide a better return on investment.

“The eye health literacy and awareness rates in Australia are not as high as they should be. Education and information really is the key to this. Previous eye health promotion campaigns, such as the Vision Initiative, have shown that increasing public awareness through quite rigorous and aggressive public health campaigns increases the rate at which people undergo regular eye health examinations,” he said.

“A good example is adherence rates to NHMRC diabetic eye examination guidelines. The National Indigenous Eye Health Survey, conducted in 2008, had reported that approximately 20% of Indigenous Australians with diabetes had adhered to the guidelines of a dilated fundus examination every year. We have reported now that it’s about 53%.

“It’s definitely not a matter of just prioritising unilateral vision loss. To keep up with the needs of the population, we need to take a very versatile and multifaceted approach to improving eye healthcare service delivery. We should have improvements across the board and our healthcare system is capable of doing so.”

The full study was published in the January issue of JAMA Ophthalmology.

Image courtesy: Flickr | @icandidyou


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