Healthy Eyes, Healthy You: The State of Eye Health In Australia

Dr. Ben Ashby offers advice on how people should take care of their eye health. Dr. Ashby is actively involved in the research, development and implementation of sustainable models of eye care delivery that improve patient outcomes and reduce avoidable blindness.

Dr. Benjamin ‘’Ben’’ Ashby is the Head of Optometry at Specsavers with responsibility for professional standards, clinical governance and optometry education programs. He graduated in Optometry in 1999 from the University of New South Wales. He has practiced optometry and held leadership roles in franchise optometry, private practice, corporate optometry, eye research and education. At the University of New South Wales, Dr. Ashby was the course convenor for the program to endorse optometrists to treat glaucoma. During this time, he began his research into eye-drop medications, which has now expanded to investigating systems, processes and technologies that improve glaucoma detection rates.

-TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW-

Tabetha Moreto: Hello everyone. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host for today, Tabetha Moreto. Our guest today is Ben Ashby, the Head of Optometry at Specsavers. Today, we’re going to talk about why Australians should prioritize their eye health and also Ben is going to talk about some research that its organization has done regarding eye health. Without any further ado, welcome to the show, Ben. It’s so nice to have you here.

Dr. Ben Ashby: Thank you very much for having me.

T: My pleasure. So Ben, please tell the audience more about yourself and your organization.

B: My role is to support Specsavers optometrists to improve and protect the sight of all Australians. So this means correcting vision either with glasses or contact lenses and detecting avoidable causes of blindness so that treatment can be commenced early.

T: That’s very fascinating to know. Can you tell us why so many Australians are failing to undergo eye test every two years?

B: Yes. There’s a number of reasons. I think number one certainly the research supports this awareness. Many people think that if they’re not experiencing a problem then there isn’t a problem with their eyes. But we know that most eye diseases don’t notice them in the early stages and this is the time when it’s most important to actually start treatment so that hopefully it never goes on to affect your vision.

T: What kind of eye conditions are not detectable in the early stages?

B: Well, we can detect them in early stages but they don’t have any symptoms, unfortunately. The big ones there, we’re talking about glaucoma macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease and of these conditions quite sadly, there are 300,000 Australians that have lost vision to them and yet these are conditions that if they’re picked up early, treatment probably could have saved their sights.

T: Yes, that sounds very sad indeed. What is the reason why more and more Australians are getting this kind of eye diseases?

B: Certainly, aging population is a significantly contribute to that. These are diseases that affect you more as you’re getting older which is a worrying element of this research that we’ve just committed because we’ve found that of those, 8 over 40, 2 out of 3 are having a problem with their sight but they’re not doing anything about it and this is putting their vision at risk. The good news though is that 90% of vision loss is avoidable or treatable but then it gets worrying again when 50% of those people over 40 don’t get their eyes checked regularly. And in this
age group we do notice about 25% that do have an eye disease that we could be actively working towards preventing.

T: I see. Can you tell us, Ben, why is it important for Australians to make sure that they undergo eye test regularly?

B: It’s really important to get regular eye tests because most of them are serious and common forms of vision loss are correctable and that we can pick them up before you have any symptoms whatsoever. So for example, glaucoma affects 300,000 Australians. Sadly, 150,000 of them aren’t diagnosed yet and there are no symptoms in the early stages but the treatment is as simple as an eye drop per day that is picked up and that can preserve your sight for the rest of your life.

T: Well, it’s a good thing to know, Ben, that these types of eye diseases can be treatable especially during the early stages.

B: It certainly is. Yes, but we just need to make sure that more Australians actively look after their eyes. So in Australia, we’re very good at doing things like attending screens for cancer, … forms in our heart and we see our GP straight away but we just don’t prioritize our eye health in the same way and yet everyone considers their vision to be so precious but we don’t actively look after it and really we should be getting our eyes checked at least every two years.

T: That’s true, Ben. I agree with you. A lot of people are worried about cancer. They’re worried about their heart health, their bowel health but people claim that their eyes are the most precious part of their body but we don’t really take care of it. So why do you think people neglect to take care of their eyes or get their eyes checked?

B: Sometimes it’s time. Sometimes it’s cost. Sometimes it’s just that that idea that if I had a problem I’d know about it but the research could’ve show time and time again that picking these things up early isn’t something you can wait until you’ve actually got a symptom. You’ve got to engage in proactively getting your eyes checked on a regular basis.

T: Absolutely. I agree with you. What advice can you give to our listeners regarding their eye health?

B: First thing, if you haven’t recently had an eye test, walk in and get your eyes checked by an optometrist. Next thing is to commit to regular eye testing and the other really important thing is that if you have an eye condition yourself, you need to tell your relatives about it to make sure they’re getting their eyes checked because so many of these treatable and avoidable eye conditions have quite a strong genetic component like up to a 50% chance of having another relative with the same condition.

T: Fantastic advice. Thank you so much, Ben. Now, if you don’t mind, can I ask you a personal question?

B: Absolutely.

T: Why are you so passionate about helping people with eye conditions and by the way how did you get into this specific medical field, in the first place?

B: I’m so passionate about it because they’re really for me couldn’t be anything more rewarding than helping people on a daily basis, to see the world more clearly and then to actually save people from losing their sight. So I ended up in this role because I always wanted to be a healthcare practitioner and I just ended up focusing on eyes and it’s been an incredibly rewarding career.

T: That’s fantastic to know that someone like you is so passionate about helping people especially when it comes to their health.

B: It’s such an opportunity to make a difference out there.

T: Yes, but before we go, can you please tell our audience for those who want to get in contact with you, how can they do that?

B: They can do it very easily. Specsavers is the largest provider of eye health services in Australia. We see over 3 million patients a year. We have practices in every location across the country where accessible, affordable, we have the latest technology and we both fill all of our
consultations. So they simply have to either go online or call up to make an appointment at Specsavers.

T: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Ben, for coming on the show. It was fantastic having you.

B: It was a delight to talk to you.

T: And that was Ben Ashby, Head of Optometry at Specsavers. If you liked this interview, transcripts and archives are available at www.hpr.fm. We’re on all social media platforms. So don’t forget to follow like and subscribe. Show us some love by subscribing to our HPR YouTube channel. We’re also available for download on SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m Tabetha Moreto and you’re listening to Health Professional Radio.

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