Pharmacists can play a key role in helping prevent and treat vision loss, write Dr Esther Lau and Professor Lisa Nissen

We rely on our eyes for many of our day-to-day activities, so it is easy to imagine how scary it would be, to suddenly experience a loss in vision. Obviously, in these instances, it is important patients are referred immediately for further investigations.

However, in some cases, vision loss may not be so obvious or easily noticed by a patient. It is almost like getting glasses to correct your vision for the first time – and it is at that time you realise your vision was so blurry!

Hence, it is important to remind all patients to have annual eye checks with their optometrist. The opportune time to engage in this conversation might be when patients purchase eye drops from the pharmacy.

There are many causes of vision loss – some conditions are treatable and vision can be restored, while other causes are not.

Cataracts – when the clear lens in the eye becomes cloudy

Diabetic retinopathy – blood vessels that supply to the retina are damaged (microaneurysms in the retina)

Dry eye – can be caused by a range of problems and affects the production of tears

Glaucoma – optic nerve is damaged due to increased pressure inside the eye

Macular degeneration – degenerative condition of the retina

Corneal dystrophy – cornea thins and becomes irregularly curved

Inherited retinal dystrophy – most common condition is retinitis pigmentosa, where the photoreceptor cells fail and die.

Low vision or becoming legally blind (cannot see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres) can have a devastating impact on a patient’s quality of life. It is important to try and help patients address any underlying factors that may have led to their vision loss.

Improvements in assistive and general technology mean that many patients with vision loss can continue enjoying activities such as reading.

Life and enjoyment doesn’t have to stop after vision loss – and pharmacists play an important role in referring patients to where they can get help e.g. Vision Australia.

Dr Esther Lau and Prof Lisa Nissen are from the School of Clinical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology.