According to the Simplyhealth Advisory Research Panel (ShARP), many British people could be risking their sight and even their lives by failing to have regular eye tests. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 people aged between 40 and 75, over half hadn’t been for a check-up with an optician for up to five years. Most worryingly, 40 per cent had failed to act even though they were aware of their vision deteriorating, and most knew that eye tests could pick up on conditions such as glaucoma and diabetes. Thirty per cent admitted they just squinted if they were struggling to see, while 12 per cent borrowed someone else’s glasses.
‘Knowing that people can be reluctant to visit an optometrist means that the pharmacy can have an important role in eye health,’ says Melanie Tymm, product manager at Spectrum Thea Pharmaceuticals. ‘Pharmacists can reinforce the health benefits of regular eye tests to ensure any issues are accurately identified and managed at the first sign to prevent serious eye problems. A healthy diet and smoking also have important implications for vision into old age.
Pharmacies should focus on stocking a comprehensive range of eye care products (in particular P products and treatment products) to help differentiate them from grocery multiples and other retailers with less medical heritage, suggests Mark Pearson, Reckitt Benckiser (RB) category marketing manager.
‘Eye care is a low interaction/low conversion category, so it should be situated with a high- interest category in order to encourage cross- shopping,’ he says. ‘As shoppers of eye care shop by brand before symptoms or format, eye care should be brand blocked. The key season for eye care runs from March to July (in line with the hay fever season). During this time, a focus on treatments for itchy eyes (such as Optrex Itchy Eye Drops and Optrex Actimist Spray), by placing them by the counter or on an additional display, is the best way to maximise the season.’
Greg Cahill, technical and scientific manager of Bausch and Lomb, says that pharmacies can promote better eye health by advising on lifestyle changes, healthier diets and the benefit of smoking cessation.
‘The main issues that relate to general eye health are fairly consistent with general health concerns, including diabetes, smoking cessation and age-related macular degeneration (AMD),’ he says. ‘Pharmacies can make the most out of this category as they are in a position to promote the benefits of regular eye examinations. Pharmacies can also supply products such as Ocuvite Complete, a supplement that is specifically formulated to maintain healthy eyes. Bausch and Lomb territory managers can provide pharmacy team training for supplements in relation to AMD and dry eye syndrome.’
Cambridge Healthcare Supplies is producing more information to support pharmacies to help customers recognise the early symptoms of minor eye infections. ‘We are currently building our Golden Eye website and will be including a general eye health page that will give basic information about looking after your eyes,’ says a spokesperson. ‘We have produced a training guide for pharmacy staff that includes frequently asked questions. This will be available as a poster and on our website.’
Dry eye increases with age, so it’s not surprising that its incidence is rising in line with the ageing population. Ms Tymm says that most people will self-select pharmacy products to relieve their dry eye symptoms, so pharmacists must have the knowledge to enable them to offer advice and recommendations.
‘Understanding the key differences between the available eye drops and eyelid care products, particularly which ones contain effective ingredients and are preservative-free, is important,’ she says. The preservative benzalkonium chloride is best avoided long term, she suggests.
Dr Mark Kirby of Macushield, a food supplement for AMD, says that nutrition is now an important consideration when discussing visual performance. ‘A balanced diet that is rich in green leafy vegetables is essential to optimise the protective nutrients at the retina,’ he says. ‘The key nutrients to be considered are lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. Research, known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) 2, conducted in the USA, is the most important study to be published in recent years on the role of nutrition in AMD.’
Spectrum Thea Pharmaceuticals is to launch Hyabak Caps, a supplement for those who suffer from dry eye. ‘The supplements contain omega-3 and omega-6 plus other vitamins and minerals with antioxidative properties to help maintain vision,’ says Ms Tymm.
RB UK is set to create a new ‘eye beauty’ category with the launch of the Optrex Eye Revive range, the first beauty products designed to restore moisture in and around the eyes. RB research shows that women take great care with their face – 86 per cent regularly use moisturisers and anti-ageing facial skin care products – but neglect their eyes. This is even though eyes lose moisture and are affected by ageing as much as the skin, until there is a problem such as dry and itchy eyes or an infection. The launch will be supported by a £3 million media campaign designed to raise awareness, educate, prompt engagement and encourage people to trial the three products in the range: Optrex Eye Revive Moisture Mist, Optrex Eye Revive Brightening Drops and Optrex Eye Revive Smoothing Roll-on.
‘This is a really exciting launch as we see that there is a big opportunity to drive eye care to the same levels as facial skincare,’ says Mr Pearson. ‘Moisture is essential for youthful beauty and that goes for the eyes as well as the skin. We know that women place healthier, less tired-looking eyes within their top five priorities, but current products only enhance the appearance of skin around the eyes. We have developed three highly effective products that target the appearance of tired eyes from within. With the launch of the Optrex Eye Revive Range, RB is going to change a woman’s daily beauty routine for ever.’
Strong advertising for eye health promotes a strong category year-round.
Fiona McElrea, pharmacist at Whithorn Pharmacy, Whithorn ‘This is quite an important category to us in our pharmacy. Topics range from hay fever allergies to contact lens care and dry eyes and we quite often get referrals from opticians for patients to buy products. Our main sellers are the Optrex range (especially the eye wash, anti-allergy drops and Actimist) and artificial tears (hypromellose, Clinitas and Viscotears). Actimist is a good product as it can be used by contact lens wearers and has a longer shelf life once opened. We keep a small supply of contact lens solution for people who run out. Very few eye products are available on the Scottish minor ailments service, so this is a good retail product category for us.’
Ani Patel, pharmacist at Savages Pharmacy, Burnham-on-Crouch ‘This category has consistent sales all year round. Media advertising for eye health has increased and we are seeing knock-on effects with eye supplements as well as the usual drops, ointments, etc. We stock the major brands and some generic alternatives. Refresher training for staff is always a benefit. Keeping up to date with new products (including the price of them) gives staff the confidence to recommend an appropriate one. But referrals from other healthcare professionals are a blessing and a curse. We often get customers requesting eye drops for children under two or for their animals, as the nurse or vet has advised them. This has never been clarified and it always appears that we are the bad guys when we refuse a sale.’
William Hughes, pharmacist at RJ Jones Pharmacy, Nefyn ‘Eye health is a growing market, but tends to be seasonal. We have a greater demand for eye health products during the summer months – we’re in a tourist area so we find that people who are camping come in with hay fever symptoms such as itchy eyes or because they have forgotten their contact lens solution. For dry eyes we recommend cleaning the eyelids with baby shampoo, warm water and cotton buds, as clogged pores on the eyelid can cause dry eyes. We place small packs of tissues next to the eye drops from March onwards because it’s an impulse buy – you’d be surprised how many people buy them along with their eye drops.’