One in 26 people in the West Midlands could lose their eyesight to treatable conditions if they fail to have regular eye tests, according to a new study published today.
According to the Royal National Institute of the Blind, more than 200,000 people in the region are at risk of developing significant sight problems if their eyes are left unchecked.
The charity launched its Open Your Eyes campaign today with a one-day conference in Birmingham aimed at educating employers and health professionals on how to help keep blind or partially-sighted people in work.
Former fashion designer Steph Cutler - who lives in Balsall Common - will address delegates on the importance of helping vision-impaired workers back into employment, and how easily they can be integrated into the workforce.
The report also reveals more than half of all sight loss is avoidable and that about 350,000 people in the West Midlands have diabetes or early-stage glaucoma, in addition to the 350,000 who already have sight problems.
Diabetic retinopathy affects six out of ten diabetes sufferers - as areas of their eyes can be damaged by bleeding - and can result in patchy, distorted vision. Regular eye check-ups can pick up any changes in the retina and means the condition can be treated.
Glaucoma is a degenerative condition which, if not picked up in its early stages, can lead to irreversible sight loss.
However, if early symptoms are detected during a routine eye examination, it can be treated by a course of eye drops. Bill Alker, the RNIB's regional spokesman, said: "Glaucoma is caused by pressure on the optical nerve, but initially there wouldn't be any noticeable pain or irritation.
"By the time sight starts to become blurred the damage is done, and eventually it will rob you of your eye sight.
"Ignorance is quietly rob-bing people of their sight every day. Unless action is taken now hundreds of people in the Midlands will needlessly lose their sight this year from conditions that could be treated if caught early.
"The Government needs to act now as the situation is going to get much worse with the explosion in the numbers of people with diabetes and as a result of the ageing of our population.
"We want the Government to invest in a large-scale public eye health awareness campaign on the importance of regular eye tests. Regular eye tests are vital for everyone - you'll never regret an eye test. An eye test can save your sight."
The RNIB's report also states nine out of ten people fear losing their sight above any other sense, but one in three people across the West Midlands have failed to have an eye test in the past two years.
It shows that few people understand the importance of an eye test in identifying potentially blinding conditions, with most giving the reason for not having an eye test as "they didn't have a problem with their eyes".
In addition, a further 500,000 people across the country are living with sight problems, such as not seeking a routine operation to remove cataracts, or wearing the wrong prescription glasses.