It’s difficult to estimate how many people are homeless in the UK, partly because the methods of recording these figures vary by location but also because many go unrecorded. Maintaining good eye health can be an issue for those who live on the streets. Several barriers are preventing the homeless population from accessing health care.
What eye problems do the homeless have?
Without access to sun protection such as sunglasses, UV light poses a real danger to those who are always on the streets. Overexposure to UV light can cause corneal sunburn, skin cancer of the eyelids, pteryguim and macular degeneration.
As well as UV light, homeless people are much more likely to have refractive errors. They are also more at risk of developing vision problems such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Why do the homeless have poor health?
Health can be a low priority for people who are just trying to survive on the streets. Health needs, such as dentistry and eye care, can often be neglected when someone doesn’t have a permanent home. Many people without permanent residence have uncorrected refractive errors, many of whom need treatment or glasses. Blurry vision can be a huge barrier that makes searching for work and finding housing more difficult.
What stops homeless people seeking eye treatment?
There are various reasons why people without permanent homes don’t seek medical treatment in the UK. Many people assume they need a permanent residence to claim free eye treatment, but this isn’t the case.
Free treatment can be claimed on the NHS through the benefits system. However, homeless people often get sanctioned, which means they lose their right to free treatment, and they cannot afford to pay for it. As they don’t always have access to the time, attending appointments can also be a problem. Another barrier is feeling awkward inside optician offices and not wanting to stand out.
Take care of your vision
Many of those who have vision loss could have avoided it through consistent eye care. The generally poor health of the homeless should remind us not to take good vision for granted. Many people also qualify for a free eye test through PRSI, so there really is no excuse.
You should have your eyes tested at least every two years (or more often if you’ve been advised to). Having regular sight tests will help to identify any issues and treat them before they can progress and cause further visual impairments. Eating a varied diet will also help support your eye health. Check out our previous blog post for more information about looking after your eyes.