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The NHS has estimated that more than 2 million people are living with sight loss in the UK. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) reports that around 60% of people living with sight loss are women. It also notes that older age is a significant risk factor related to eye health and sight loss.

The RNIB’s website provides further information on the criteria for certification of sight loss, known as a Certificate of Vision Impairment in England, and how sight loss is measured.

The NHS recommends that most people should have their eyes tested every two years. Some groups who are at increased risk of eye problems, may need to have a sight test more often.

Causes of sight loss

Sight loss has many causes. The World Health Organization has identified the leading causes globally:

  • age-related macular degeneration (blurring or loss of central vision, which you need to see straight ahead)
  • cataract (when the lens of the eye develops cloudy patches)
  • diabetic retinopathy (high blood sugar levels damaging the retina)
  • glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve connecting the eye to the brain)
  • uncorrected refractive errors (blurred vision, such as that caused by myopia (short-sightedness))

Most sight loss in the UK is caused by uncorrected refractive errors (two in five cases), age-related macular degeneration (one in five) or cataract (one in five). 

Sight loss can have a significant physical, social, psychological, emotional and economic effects. This might vary according to a person’s age, individual circumstances, or the extent of the sight loss.

Government policy on sight loss

The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments have published strategies which set out national objectives for eye health care:

There is no eye health strategy for England. The Government said, in September 2022, that it had no current plans for a national eye strategy as eye care services are commissioned locally to meet the needs of the local population.

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