In Canada, the vision needs of its citizens remain unmet as the overall eye health of the population continues to decline. According to the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, 1.2 million Canadians are living with vision loss. This is outside of the more than 8 million who suffer from at least one major eye disease.
Largely, this is because, despite the advances in medical technology and knowledge, many Canadians still struggle to access appropriate eye care and adopt preventive measures. This is a concerning issue that has significant implications for the health and well-being of the population, as well as the overall healthcare system.
Common vision issues among Canadians
One of the most common vision issues in Canadians is refractive errors, which include conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. These conditions can cause blurry vision, difficulty seeing objects at a distance or up close, and eye strain. Over time, these conditions can adversely affect the quality of living and cause depressive symptoms.
Another common vision issue among Canadians is cataracts. In fact, the Canadian Association of Optometrists and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society’s “The Cost of Vision Loss and Blindness in Canada” report states that it is the leading cause of blindness in Canada, with over 3.5 million people suffering from it. A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which can cause blurry vision, light sensitivity, and difficulty seeing at night.
Other vision issues that make up the aforementioned major eye diseases are age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, as well as diabetic retinopathy. These are especially common today, given the rising demographic of older Canadians.
The current state of Canadian eye care
Despite the strides made in the evolution of eye care in Canada, there are still significant challenges that remain. One of the most prominent ones includes Canadians’ eye care habits themselves. In a Clearly report called “Eyes on Canada: Are Canadians taking care of their vision?”, statistics reveal most are lax when it comes to their eyes. Case in point, 1 out of 3 Canadians are overdue for an eye exam, and 86% of these individuals are aware of it but still choose to overlook it. As a result, almost half (44%) of Canadians state that they experience vision issues several times a month, while 1 in 7 Canadians has an eye condition that can lead to permanent vision loss. This is similar to how dental care is overlooked in Canada, wherein an estimated 575,000 Canadians don’t receive dental care at all.
Another pressing issue is the lack of access to eye care services in certain regions of the country, particularly in rural and remote areas. To illustrate, research on BMC Health services shows that the majority of optometrists are found in more urban provinces in Canada. This poses a problem as only 9% of doctors practice in rural areas, whereas over 20% of Canadians live in these less metropolitan provinces. The cost of eye care also poses a major issue, especially for those who require specialized treatments or surgeries. While some eye care services are covered under public health insurance, many procedures and treatments are not. For example, Ontario’s public OHIP insurance does not cover LASIK. This can significantly impact individuals, especially those with limited financial means, leading to delayed or forgone care.
What should be done?
The unmet vision needs of Canadians present a significant public health challenge that must be addressed. A study on Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that Canadians spend up to 12.5 hours in front of screens daily, which is causing an even quicker rise in eye disorders. According to the World Health Organization, this will contribute to one of the many global eye health issues, such as more than half of the world becoming myopic by 2050. By increasing access to eye care services, reducing financial barriers, and urging the public to practice proper eye care habits, Canada can work towards improving the overall eye health of its population.
By Luke Harper