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Retired Suffolk policeman Ralph McMurray helps spread message of National Eye Health Week

PUBLISHED: 15:21 22 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:05 22 September 2017

Jo Gumbs and Nicolette Mcdowell of OcuMel UK, Anne and Ralph McMurray, Amanda Skinner of Wardale Williams and Emma Taylor of CLIC Sargent promoting the Eye Smart Campaign. Picture: WARDALE WILLIAMS

Jo Gumbs and Nicolette Mcdowell of OcuMel UK, Anne and Ralph McMurray, Amanda Skinner of Wardale Williams and Emma Taylor of CLIC Sargent promoting the Eye Smart Campaign. Picture: WARDALE WILLIAMS

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Go for regular eye tests – it could not only save your sight, but also your life. This is the message being pushed by campaigners across Suffolk and Essex during National Eye Health Week, from September 18-24.

Ralph McMurray pictured at home in Long Melford. Picture: PHIL MORLEYRalph McMurray pictured at home in Long Melford. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Retired Suffolk policeman Ralph McMurray, of Long Melford, was last year diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a rare form of eye cancer, when he went to the opticians for the first time in his life at the age of 66.

As part of his treatment, the father-of-two has had to have an eye removed.

“I had no idea there was any problem,” Mr McMurray said. “That’s why I want people to have to have an eye test because there are other problems they can detect. They picked this up and now I’m here to tell the story and I don’t know what would have happened if I left it another six months.”

Mr McMurray, now 67, is part of the Eye Smart Campaign, which is led by opticians Wardale Williams, which has practices across Suffolk and Essex, and aims to highlight the importance of having routine eye examinations.

Keira Dixon has her glasses fitted by Wardale Williams branch manager, Mark Thompson. Picture: SU ANDERSONKeira Dixon has her glasses fitted by Wardale Williams branch manager, Mark Thompson. Picture: SU ANDERSON

The initiative is also backed by the family of Keira Dixon, of Sible Hedingham, as well as OcuMel UK, a charity run by eye cancer patients, and children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

Ms Dixon was diagnosed with a brain tumour following an eye test at Wardale Williams in 2015, when aged just 17.

She needed life-saving surgery within five days of being referred to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment.

As well as vision issues, other conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, tumours, cancers, high blood pressure and thyroid disease can also be detected through an eye exam.

Abigail Preston is head of operations at Billson Opticians in East Anglia, which is supporting National Eye Health Week.

She said: “Unfortunately many people in the UK don’t attend the opticians as often as they should and as many eye health problems are preventable or more easily treated in their early stages, people may be suffering unnecessarily.

“Giving people knowledge allows them to be in control of their own eye health and allows us to help them do it.”

Meanwhile, SeeAbility is using National Eye Health Week to raise awareness of the injustice faced by people with learning disabilities when it comes to their sight.

According to the charity, adults with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have sight problems than other adults, but many do not receive tests or the correct care.

Stephen Kell, SeeAbility’s manager of eye care and vision, said: “Adults with learning disabilities may not know if they have a sight problem and even if they did, they may not be able to tell someone. We all need to make sure that people are getting the right support to look after their eyes.”

To mark National Eye Health Week, Billson Opticians has offered nine top tips for protecting your eyes

1. Find out if you are at a higher risk for eye diseases, such as a family history of diabetes

2. Manage conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, as these can cause eye problems if left untreated

3. Take notice of warning signs like changes in vision

4. Exercise, as this can reduce the risk of macular degeneration

5. Protect your eyes from harmful UV light by wearing sunglasses

6. Get your eyes checked at least every two years

7. Don’t smoke, as those who do are at greater risk of some eye disorders

8. Eat a healthy diet; studies show antioxidants can possibly reduce the risk of cataracts while eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your threat of developing macular degeneration

9. Wear safety glasses while working with tools or playing sport

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