The silent thief of sight

8th – 14th June is National Glaucoma Awareness Week – Dogs Unite’s own Becky has the condition, and tells her story.

Adult female in Dog unite t-shirt

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of sight loss. It is referred to as the «silent thief of sight», as it often goes unnoticed until some irreparable sight loss has already occurred.

It’s a condition I have, and I find it more and more fascinating the more I learn about it. In essence it is a group of conditions which can cause damage to the optic nerve, resulting in sight loss. Without getting too technical, the main risk factor is increased intra-ocular pressure. The increased pressure in the eye is generally caused by the over-production of a particular fluid of the eye (the aqueous humour), problems with the drainage of this fluid, or both. I’ve previously been told to think of this by imagining a water balloon: the more water in the balloon, the higher the pressure inside it. Too little or too much water means the balloon doesn’t work the way it’s meant to, and the same thinking can be applied loosely to the fluid pressure of the eye.

I was diagnosed with this condition by complete chance: I was baby swimming with my parents, and there happened to be an opthalmologist in the pool. He looked at my eyes, told my mum and dad that there was something unusual about them and advised them to take me to their local eye hospital to get me checked out.

It turns out there really was something unusual, and despite no family history of glaucoma this was my diagnosis. I first had surgery for this at the age of 18 months, then followed 10 years of regular check-ups, eye drops, hospital stays and several surgeries. At the age of 11 I was hospitalised for two months while the doctors and surgeons tried to bring my pressure under control – most of which I spent alone with my dad on the children’s ward, devouring Goosebumps books (I still have my rather impressive collection of 50 or so books from the series!) and trying to convince the older ladies in the hospital that i DID have glaucoma, despite their knowing assertions that I was way too young for such a condition.

My glaucoma then went into «hibernation» for 15 years: quite why I don’t know, but the two months in hospital were obviously worth it! Despite the lull I had regular eye check-ups to monitor the pressure, my visual field and checks for optic nerve damage. It has spiked again recently, but as I already have my diagnosis and the follow-up I need the chances of this severly impacting my sight are minimal.  

Awareness of glaucoma and regular eye health checks are essential, as there are generally no symptoms until the condition is advanced. A simple eye test can pick up glaucoma, and early discovery and treatment allows most people with the condition to maintain their sight for life.

"I’ve previously been told to think of this by imagining a water balloon: the more water in the balloon, the higher the pressure inside it. Too little or too much water means the balloon doesn’t work the way it’s meant to, and the same thinking can be applied loosely to the fluid pressure of the eye"

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See through the eyes of visual impairments