Experts warn pandemic has put ticking timebomb on our eyes and health in South Devon


Hundreds of people in South Devon could be walking around with undetected serious eye and health conditions, such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and even heart disease, because they’ve missed their regular eye test.

Findings released by Specsavers indicate that between March and September 2020 85,455 people in Devon – including Torbay, the South Hams and Teignbridge – and Cornwall missed an eye test. This means many of them may have an eye or health condition that they are unaware of.

Further research by Specsavers has revealed that at least 1 in 10 people (10%) in the South West fear they might have a serious underlying sight condition, while 1 in 20 (5%) worry that they have a potentially significant issue with their hearing.

While nearly half of adults in the South West (48%) think either their sight, hearing or both have deteriorated since the pandemic began – nearly three-quarters (72%) of those have not yet booked a test.

According to the research as part of Specsavers Hindsight Report, nearly 1 in 10 (8%) people in the region have also missed a hearing test in the last year.

Simon Simmonds, director at the two Torquay Specsavers stores, says: ‘Regular examinations are capable of picking up so much more than whether or not someone can see normally.

‘During the past 12 months we have made far fewer referrals and detected far fewer anomalies than would be expected in this time period because people have been cancelling their appointments for various reasons like self-isolating or nervousness around leaving their home.

‘Understandably, many have missed appointments due to the pandemic. However, so many potentially dangerous potential illnesses are highlighted during eye tests. And when you consider the number who have missed a test in the last year, there are potentially a high number of people going about their lives with no idea about potentially catastrophic illness that could be avoided by having a simple test.’

Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) adults in the South West have felt eye fatigue in the last year, while the same number have experienced dry eyes (17%) and 1 in 10 have experienced headaches (12%).

Yet 73% haven’t sought medical advice, believing them not to be a major problem – or not wanting to waste NHS time and resource.

The research shows that many were aware a standard eye test can detect cataracts, glaucoma or retinal detachments, but 86% were unaware they can identify signs of a potential stroke.

More than half (59%) admitted they don’t always know what they’re looking for when it comes to health-related warning signs, while 38% admitted to avoiding thinking about any health conditions they may have.

Of the 40% who tend to put off things such as an eyesight check, 63% do so because they think the changes are so small they’re almost unnoticeable.

Of those who have felt their sight and hearing have deteriorated, worrying about being up close to others outside of their household (36%), feeling it was too early to be into contact with others (31%) and simply not getting round to it yet (19%) were the main reasons for not booking a test.

But while people have been avoiding appointments at all costs, the Hindsight report indicates a surge in adults researching health concerns online – Specsavers has also seen an increase in online enquires to its website and Ask The Expert Facebook Group too.

Simon adds: ‘While our store has been open throughout the pandemic, with the rest of the high street opening up, people may start to feel more comfortable making their appointments once again. In fact, we have already seen an increase in calls asking if we’re open.

‘As our research shows, people have understandably been apprehensive about coming into contact with others, but we want to ensure customers that we have stringent safety measures in place and enhanced cleaning routines to make visits as safe as possible.

‘Luckily, we can catch people through our website and direct them to the right place for correct advice. But we are concerned that there are many people out there using search engines for self-diagnosis and potentially coming across DIY tips that are not medically robust or safe to do.

‘It is so important that anyone with any concerns seeks advice from a professional. An eye test doesn’t just pick up changes in vision – it can also detect wider health concerns too.’

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