Vision and hearing: migrant health guide

Advice and guidance on the health needs of migrant patients for healthcare practitioners.

Main messages

Inform new patients about opticians services in the UK.

Immediately necessary ophthalmology treatment is exempt from charge under The National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2015.

Difficulties in communicating with migrant patients may not just be the result of a language barrier. Check that hearing impairment isn’t an issue.

Detecting and responding to hearing impairment in babies and young children is vital for the development of speech and language.


The World Health Organization estimates that globally approximately:

  • 285 million people are visually impaired, of which 39 million are blind
  • 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured
  • about 90% of visually impaired people live in low-income countries

In every part of the world:

  • most people with visual impairment are older
  • females are more at risk at every age

Although the number of people blinded by infectious diseases has been greatly reduced:

  • age-related impairment is increasing
  • cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, apart from in high-income countries

The correction of refractive errors with spectacles could give normal vision to 12 million children, but this option is not available to many.

The availability of optician and/or ophthalmology services is extremely variable between and within countries.

Some migrants may have visual problems that have not previously been properly addressed prior to arrival in the UK.


The World Health Organization reports that globally:

  • 360 million people are estimated to have disabling hearing loss
  • the majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries
  • approximately 50% of the total burden is preventable, for example by:

    • reducing exposure to excessive noise
    • avoiding the inappropriate use of certain drugs
    • promoting safe childbirth
    • immunising children against diseases, including measles and rubella

Properly fitted hearing aids can improve communication in people with hearing impairment, but in developing countries fewer than 1 in 40 people who need a hearing aid have one.

In children, hearing impairment may delay development of language skills and hinder progress in school.

In adults, hearing impairment often makes it difficult to obtain and keep jobs.

Both children and adults who are hearing impaired can be stigmatized and socially isolated.

The availability of audiology services is extremely variable between and within countries.

Some migrants may have hearing difficulties that have not been detected, assessed or properly managed prior to arrival in the UK.


Read NHS.UK NHS Services explained about eye care.

You can find opticians services on NHS.UK.

Published 31 July 2014