What do Bono, Whoopi Goldberg and Hairy Biker chef Dave Myers all have in common? They all have glaucoma.
Often symptomless in its early stages, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible sight loss. An estimated 700,000 people in the UK are living with the condition dubbed “the silent thief of sight” – yet as many as 50% of cases remain undiagnosed.  If detected early, glaucoma is generally treatable with simple medication. That is why this Glaucoma Awareness Week (June 17-23), Specsavers is highlighting the importance of looking after our eyes, beginning with routine eye tests.
Usually glaucoma occurs when naturally-occurring fluid inside the eye do not drain properly, leading to a build-up of pressure. This can then cause damage to the optic nerve and nerve fibres from the retina, causing the progressive loss of sight.
Specsavers clinical spokesperson, Dr Nigel Best, says: ‘There are several factors which can increase your risk of developing glaucoma such as a family history of the disease. Other risk factors include those who have black-African or Asian heritage as well as those who have higher levels of short sightedness. Of course, age also needs to be considered as two in every 100 people over the age of 40 are affected with the condition.
Glaucoma can be treated effectively
‘The good news is glaucoma can generally be treated effectively if detected early, and in most cases, daily eye drops are used.’
The most common form of glaucoma visual loss is initially very subtle, affecting mainly the peripheral vision rather than central. As a consequence, it can be hard to notice and many won’t realise there is anything wrong with their sight before professional advice.
That is what happened to Mary Booth. When Mary, 78, made an appointment at Specsavers Didcot for a routine eye examination earlier this year, she had no idea that the visit would ultimately help to save her sight.
Despite realising her vision had deteriorated a little, Mary had not experienced any unusual symptoms and expected to be prescribed a new pair of glasses.
I could have lost my sight
Mary says: ‘I’d not had any symptoms and there’s no history of the condition in my family, and so, if I hadn’t seen the optician when I did, I could ultimately have lost my sight.’
Mary was seen by the store’s optometrist and store director Rukhsana Bi, who quickly picked up that her optic disc in her left eye looked different from her previous visits. Further tests using an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) machine, which uses a laser light source to produce a structural scan of the eye, along with field and pressure tests led Rukhsana to believe that Mary had the early signs of glaucoma. Rukhsana urged Mary to contact her GP to arrange an appointment at the eye hospital.
‘I managed to get an appointment with an eye consultant within a month and he confirmed Rukhsana’s suspicions about glaucoma,’ comments Mary. ‘He was also amazed that this had been picked up at all during a routine eye examination at such an early stage and praised Rukhsana for her professionalism.’
Fortunately, as Mary’s condition had been caught early, she was prescribed with special eye drops to reduce any damage to her eyes. She’ll also continue to have regular check-ups at the hospital.
Late diagnosis can cause permanent sight loss
Karen Osborn Chief Executive of the International Glaucoma Association (IGA) says: ‘We regularly hear from people who have permanently lost sight to glaucoma because of late diagnosis. People are often angry and upset to learn that simple regular visits to their local high street optometrist could have detected the condition. The earlier treatment starts, the more likely that someone will retain useful sight for life, so it’s great that so many Specsavers stores are on board with Awareness Week.’
It is vitally important people attend regular check-ups at their optician to check for any signs. At your appointment your optometrist will carry out an eye pressure test to see if you might have or are at risk of developing glaucoma. A visual field test may also be used to detect any subtle blind spots you may not be aware of, which can also be an indicator of the condition.
More than half of the Specsavers stores in the UK have already invested in 3D scanning OCT machines, which allows optometrists to view the eye in more detail than ever before, whilst optometrists in most Specsavers stores have also taken additional accreditations in glaucoma management to improve their skills – including how to administrate eye drops effectively.
Specsavers and the IGA recommends everyone should get an eye test once every two years or more regularly if advised by a health professional. For further information or to book an appointment visit: https://www.specsavers.co.uk/