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Eye health

Vision problems can lead to a higher risk of falls, driving accidents, and incorrect use of medications. They can also make day-to-day life harder. The best way to make sure your eyes are healthy is to have regular eye checks. Many eye diseases can be treated successfully if they are detected early.

What are some common eye diseases that can affect me?

Certain eye diseases are more common as we age. These include:

  • glaucoma
  • cataracts
  • macular degeneration

Eye diseases don’t always cause obvious symptoms. An eye test by an optician doesn’t just check to see whether you need glasses – it’s also an important check on the health of your eyes.

An optician can detect eye diseases at an early stage, usually before you’ve even noticed any changes. An eye test checks your vision straight ahead, as well as your side (peripheral) vision.

How often should I get my eyes tested?

You should have an eye test every two years or as often as your optician recommends.

If you notice any changes in your vision, get it checked as soon as possible.

What type of glasses is best for me?

If your optician recommends you need glasses, they must give you a prescription, which shows the type and strength of lenses you need. You can use this prescription to buy glasses from any supplier, which means you can shop around for the best value.

Your optician can talk to you about the different types of lenses available and which are most suitable for your eyes. There are different types of lenses and extra features – bifocals, trifocals, varifocals, tinting – to suit different types of vision problems and lifestyles.

Wherever you buy your glasses, make sure you have the right lenses. Wearing the wrong glasses can make you more likely to get eye strain, misjudge kerbs or distances, or trip over obstacles.

Don’t be tempted to buy less expensive, ready-made reading glasses from a supermarket or pharmacy. It’s rare for both your eyes to need the same correction and they’re often less durable.

Am I entitled to free eye tests?

Everyone aged 60 and over can receive a free eye test every two years.

You'll get a free annual sight test at any age if you have a close family member who has been diagnosed with glaucoma or you’ve been advised by an ophthalmologist that you are at risk of glaucoma.

You'll also get a free annual eye test at any age if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. You should also be offered an additional annual eye test to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Am I entitled to free glasses?

If you're on Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, you and your partner are automatically entitled to a voucher towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses.

If you or your partner receive Universal Credit and meet certain other criteria, you may also be eligible for help with health costs.

If you and your partner have a low income and savings, you may be able to get help towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses through the NHS Low Income scheme.

Find out more about the NHS Low Income Scheme and how to apply

How can I keep my eyes healthy?

Here are some tips to keep your eyes healthy:

  • Get regular eye tests.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun.
  • Eat healthily, particularly plenty of fruit and vegetables which have specific nutrients that are important for eye health.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is harmful to eyes – research has shown that smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. Cigarette smoke irritates the eyes and will worsen dry eyes.

What aids can help me at home if I have a visual impairment?

There are a number of optical aids and gadgets that can help improve your vision and keep you living independently. You’re most likely to need different types for specific activities, such as reading a book or watching television.

The simplest optical aids are special magnifiers, which can help with tasks such as reading a newspaper. Magnifiers may be hand-held, have their own stand, or may be built into your glasses.

Other aids include:

  • computer screen magnifiers
  • big button telephones
  • large print books and newspapers
  • talking books
  • large print board games and card games
  • screen readers
  • talking watches.

For advice on optical aids, ask your doctor or eye specialist to refer you to a low-vision clinic, where specialist staff can assess which aids would help you most and suggest ways to make the best possible use of the sight you have.

They can usually loan any equipment to you for you to try out. If you register as blind or partially sighted, your local authority should contact you for an assessment.

The British Wireless for the Blind Fund can supply free radios and audio equipment to people who are registered as sight-impaired or severely sight-impaired, and in financial need.

RNIB has a range of newspapers and magazines in a variety of different accessible reading formats.

How can lighting help me if I have low vision?

Follow these simple tips to make the most of your lighting at home.

  • Keep your windows clean and pull the curtains back as far as possible.
  • Consider switching away from curtains to blinds, which make it easier to control the light that comes into your home.
  • Make sure you have good lighting at the top and bottom of stairs.
  • Use a flexible table lamp for reading or close work.

Where possible, opt for fluorescent lamps - they're very efficient, produce a lot of light, but very little heat.

Further information

Get more in-depth advice about lighting around the home, when you have sight loss

How do I register as blind or partially sighted?

Your optician or GP will need to refer you to an eye specialist who will perform some tests to see if you’re eligible. 

If the eye specialist does certify you as partially sighted or blind then you’ll receive a Certificate of Visual Impairment. You can then choose to register with your local council for local services or a reduction in your council tax bill.

Being registered as blind doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t see at all – most people who are registered blind do still have some useful vision.

If you’re registered as blind or partially sighted, you may receive:

If you’re registered as blind then you can get 50% reduction in the price of your TV licence.

In addition, a claim for disability benefits (e.g. Attendance Allowance) may be strengthened if you’re registered as blind or partially sighted.

Check what you're entitled to

Try our free benefits calculator to see what you could claim.

What should I do next?

Get a check

Get your eyes and glasses checked by an optician every 2 years (or as often as advised).

Age NI Advice Service

Every year our Advice Service deals with thousands of calls from older people in need. Call us today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.

Call freephone 0808 808 7575
Monday - Friday 9am – 5pm 


Last updated: May 05 2020

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