Slightly more than half the number of people who took advantage of community eye screening offered by the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) found out they had a problem with their eyes.
Since 2000, SNEC has been providing free screening to close to 16,000 people aged 50 years and older at the annual event. Of those screened, one in four has cataract.
Professor Ecosse Lamoureux, director of population health at the Singapore Eye Research Institute, said a small number had eye problems that "required an acute referral" to a hospital emergency department or to see an ophthalmologist within the following couple of days.
The other 8,000 had problems that did not need immediate treatment. The most common was cataract, where the lens in the eye becomes cloudy, resulting in poor vision. It is a problem often linked to ageing, and can be easily remedied with the removal of the cloudy lens, replacing it with an artificial one. During cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist would insert a lens that also corrects a patient's vision, such as myopia.
About 2,000 people were diagnosed with suspected glaucoma, a condition where pressure on the eyeball causes gradual loss of sight.
Prof Lamoureux has suggested more primary care and community-based screening to help older people identify eye problems so that they can be corrected early.
Optometrist Yap Tiong Peng had written to The Straits Times Forum page last month to urge greater use of optometrists in identifying eye problems.
Optometrists - Singapore has 1,252 - are primary eyecare providers who specialise in performing eye examinations.
They are trained to detect eye infections and common eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration, all of which may be treatable if detected early.
Dr Yap said: "Poor eyesight in the elderly can make it difficult for them to perform day-to-day tasks and be independent." Some problems are simple and can be remedied with a pair spectacles. Others may need to be referred to a specialist for further care.
He said optometrists working in the heartland are in an ideal position to help as they can more readily reach out to people.
However, the entry level to the profession here is a polytechnic diploma, while in Britain and Australia, optometrists need at least four years in university to qualify. None of the universities here offers a degree course in optometry.
While there are graduate optometrists, such as Dr Yap, there is no official recognition of them. In Hong Kong, they are graded by their levels of competency, he said.
The Optometrists and Opticians Board, which regulates the profession, said not all optical shops are fully equipped for eye testing.
It added: "With the appropriate training and equipment, optometrists, including those in the licensed hospitals, specialist eye clinics and optometrist shops, will be able to perform the full scope of eye examination."
Ms Chui Wen Juan, a councillor with the Singapore Optometric Association, said there are no guidelines on what optometrists can charge for an eye test.
"Current market rates range from $40 to $200 because optometric practices vary in services offered and equipment used. A comprehensive eye exam would take around 30 to 45 minutes," she said.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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