By Karen Osborn, CEO of International Glaucoma Association (IGA)
It’s June and it’s Glaucoma Awareness Week!
And as always, the most pressing thing we need to shout about is eye health checks. It’s a scary fact, but there are about 700,000 people living with glaucoma in the UK but half of them don’t know they have it. And once sight is lost to glaucoma it’s gone forever – as there’s still no cure. So every June our main call to action is: have regular eye checks!
Glaucoma is unlike a lot of other eye conditions – if it’s detected early there are lots of treatment options available. There are eye drops (usually taken for life), laser, and a host of traditional and new micro-invasive surgeries, and if it’s caught early and treated straight away most people can retain useful sight for life. So we encourage everyone to have eye checks at their local optometrist at least every 2 years.
It would be good to never have to hear another helpline caller feel angry and upset because they’ve needlessly lost their sight. We have found that it’s often men in this position. They’re more likely to have significant sight loss when they’re diagnosed, because of late presentation. There’s a family link too: if you have a parent or sibling with glaucoma, you’re at much higher risk yourself. People of Black African, Caribbean and South Asian descent are also at increased risk, so we need to keep spreading the word.
This year we’re also focusing on sticking to treatment plans. Most types of glaucoma are asymptomatic: no pain, no discomfort and only very gradual sight loss. Peripheral vision is affected first, with visual field lost in misty patchy areas. It’s a sneaky disease – the brain fills in these misty patches and the other eye can compensate for field loss in a particular area, so up to 40 percent of sight can actually be lost before glaucoma’s diagnosed.
The traditional first line treatment is eye drops, but often these can make peoples’ eyes red, sore and itchy. Someone told me recently that this affected her self-confidence and she felt awkward at work because it looked like she was out on the tiles every night. When the treatment’s so much worse than the disease itself, it’s easy to understand why it can be hard to stick to. This Glaucoma Awareness Week we’re asking everyone to keep using the drops!
It’s holiday season so we’ve got advice on timing eye drops when you’re crossing time zones, keeping them cool in hot countries, taking them on planes with you and more – you can view this advice on our website. We also have advice on the different kinds of drops available, so if one type is causing you problems, we’d encourage you to talk to your consultant or GP.
You can also call our helpline which is open Monday to Friday 9:30am–5:00pm, Helen and Trish are there to answer all manner of questions. Common questions we get are about surgery and laser treatment, and of course driving. Anyone with glaucoma in both eyes must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) but understandably lots of callers are terrified of disclosing this because of the impact losing their licence would have. But there is some good news: around 95 percent of people who tell the DVLA each year are able to retain their licence.
If you or anyone you know needs information or advice about glaucoma, call the helpline on 01233648170. There’s a host of downloadable information and advice on our website.
If you can, please help us spread the word about eye tests, and help us save sight!