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Public blind to warning signs of sight-threatening conditions

Half of sight loss is avoidable[1] yet new research conducted for National Eye Health Week (20 -26 September 2021) reveals a worrying lack of awareness when it comes to ‘red flag’ symptoms linked to sight threatening eye conditions.

Despite being symptoms of retinal detachment (RD) – a condition requiring urgent treatment to avoid permanent loss of vision – more than 4 in 10 of us (43%) are unaware that suddenly seeing lots of flashes or floaters in our vision could be a warning sign that something is amiss, whilst a third of us (36%) are unaware a shadow, veil or curtain over our vision requires emergency (same day) medical attention.[2]

Retinal tears (one of the possible precursors to a retina detaching) are common.. These can be detected early during routine eye tests and then monitored and treated before eyesight is affected. However, incidence of retinal detachment have increased significantly over recent years fuelled by factors such as an ageing population, increasing myopia (short-sightedness) and rising rates of diabetes.

Without urgent treatment a detached retina will lead to vision impairment. Vitrectomy – the most common surgery used for treating retinal detachment in the UK – rose four-fold between 2000 – 2018, to 29,923.[3]

David Cartwright, Chair of Eye Health UK, the charity responsible for National Eye Health Week says: “Better awareness of the warning signs of sight loss and increased uptake of routine eye tests will prevent avoidable vision impairment. In many cases the cause of red flag symptoms will be minor however, it’s vital that if you experience severe eye pain, sensitivity to light, acute redness or a shadow across your vision it is checked out by an eyecare practitioner straight-away, as every day you delay could potentially result in unrecoverable sight loss.”

Red flag symptoms that require urgent medical attention include, but are not limited to:


  • A curtain, veil or shadow in your vision
  • Sudden sight loss or double vision
  • Acute redness in one or both eyes
  • Sensitivity to light photophobia
  • Severe eye pain
  • Suddenly seeing lots of flashes or floaters (little dots or squiggles).


You should also seek urgent attention in you suffer eye trauma or have a foreign object in your eye that you can not flush out at home using an eye wash solution.

It may seem obvious that these symptoms are cause for concern but the National Eye Health Week research found almost a fifth of us (18%) would not consider severe eye pain an eye emergency whilst two thirds of us would dismiss acute red eye as ‘nothing to worry about’.

Yet acute redness, especially if accompanied by eye pain or reduced visual acuity is linked to a host of serious and sight-threatening eye conditions including: scleritis, uveitis, corneal abrasion, corneal ulcer, viral keratitis and acute angle closure glaucoma,

If in doubt, get your symptoms checked out at your local optical practice, call NHS 111 or contact your hospital eye emergency department.



About Retinal Detachment:

What is the retina?
Imagine that your eye is like a camera, and the retina is the film. The retina is a fine sheet of nerve tissue lining the inside of the eye. Rays of light enter the eye and are focused on the retina by the lens. The retina produces a picture that is sent along the optic nerve for the brain to interpret. It's rather like the film in the camera being developed so that pictures can be produced.

What is retinal detachment?
Usually the retina is attached to the inner surface of the eye. If there is a tear or hole in the retina then fluid can get underneath it. This weakens the attachment so that the retina becomes detached - rather like wallpaper peeling off a damp wall. When this happens the retina cannot compose a clear picture from the incoming rays and your vision becomes blurred and dim.

Who is more likely to get it?
Detachment of the retina happens more to middle aged, short-sighted people. Very rarely, younger people can have a weakness of the retina.

What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is a shadow spreading across the vision of one eye. You may also experience bright flashes of light and/or showers of dark spots called floaters. These symptoms are never painful.

Many people experience flashes or floaters and these are not necessarily a cause for alarm. However, if they are severe and seem to be getting worse, and/or you are losing vision then you should see your eyecare practitioner urgently. Prompt treatment can often minimise the damage to your eye.

What is the treatment?
If you get help early, it may only be necessary to have a laser or freezing treatment. This is usually performed under a local anaesthetic.

Often however, an operation to repair the hole in the retina will be needed. This is usually done under a general anaesthetic and can be repaired with a single operation in 90 per cent of cases. This does not usually cause much pain but your eye will be sore and swollen for a few days afterwards. You will usually need to stay in hospital for two or three days after your operation.

[1] Two million people in the UK are living with sight loss, that is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives. Half of this sight loss is avoidable. Future Sight Loss UK (1): The economic impact of partial sight and blindness in the UK adult population, AccessEconomics PTY Ltd09
[2] NEHW21 Eye Report. Research conducted by .Yonder 13 & 14 September 2021. Sample size 2,073 UK Adults
[3] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.06.20214734v1.full#ref-4