Eye health experts are warning the public about a silent eye disease that has no early symptoms and has the potential to leave people blind or partially sighted.
Glaucoma, sometimes referred to as the “silent thief of sight”, affects around 13,300 people in Lancashire.
And experts say many cases are only diagnosed following a significant loss of vision.
It is predicted the number of cases of glaucoma in the county will increase by more than 20% by 2030.
Now local sight loss charity Pewortham based Galloway’s is calling on members of the public to attend regular eye tests so that cases of glaucoma can be identified early.
The term glaucoma is used to describe a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve is damaged.
Bill Stansbie, 88, was diagnosed with glaucoma at a routine eye appointment six years ago.
The great-grandfather from Preston says he is lucky his condition was picked up early and that early treatment helped to save his vision.
Bill said: “Around six years ago I realised that my eyesight was changing. I’ve had problems with my central vision since I was involved in an accident at work in my early 20s and have lived with a form of sight loss since then.
“But I started to realise, that it was becoming harder to use my peripheral vision. I just presumed it was something to do with my earlier accident and my age.
“Thankfully, I’ve always had regular eye tests and it was at one of these routine appointments that my optician saw that something was wrong. I was referred to the eye clinic where I was diagnosed with Glaucoma but they told me they had caught it in its early stages.
“It was a bit of a surprise because there hadn’t really been many symptoms and I was pretty much carrying on with my life without any real problems. I was prescribed eye drops and have used them religiously.
“The drops have helped to stabilise my eye pressures and I imagine this would not have been the case if my glaucoma had not been picked up as early.”
But glaucoma is not simply a condition which affects older people.
Galloway’s Technology Coordinator, Andrew Coleman, was born with a congenital form of the eye disease and has lived with sight loss throughout his life.
The 33-year-old, who is registered Severely Sight Impaired (blind), said: “My vision is very limited as I have problems with my peripheral vision – it’s like looking through a tunnel. I also struggle to see at distance and focus on things - I couldn’t read a newspaper.
“Socialising when I was growing up was hard at times. I went to a school that specialised in teaching children who were blind or partially sighted.
“I felt fairly normal in that environment but when I was outside the school, I knew I was different. I struggled to mix with children in my area and I dreaded the summer holidays because I wanted to be around my school friends.
“But I was really very lucky. One day when I was around nine, one of the boys from my street came around and asked if I wanted a game of football. I was a bit nervous, but I soon had a large group of friends and never looked back.
“I think one of the most important things with sight loss is to challenge perceptions. For me, it’s all about the things I can do. I will always try to go as far as I can, for me there are no limits. I’m very proud of my sight loss. To anyone out there who is struggling I would say to try to push your limits and get out of your comfort zone if you can. It really helps to boost your confidence. But everybody is different and there is no right or wrong way.
“Organisations like Galloway’s can really help people find a positive way forward.”
Galloway’s CEO Stuart Clayton said: “It is vital that members of the public understand the importance of regular eye tests. Often by the time glaucoma symptoms have been noticed, the disease has already caused significant damage to the eye.“Opticians are trained to spot the early signs of glaucoma and early intervention can dramatically improve the outcome for people living with this eye disease.”The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, usually develops following a build-up of pressure in the eye.Although vision that is lost to glaucoma can never be recovered, with early diagnosis and preventative treatment, further sight loss can be avoided.
Opticians say that with timely intervention, progression of the eye disease can be slowed and vision can be saved.
Penwortham-based optician Chris Dineen said: “Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve which progresses without the patient noticing until it is too late. The damage caused can be slowed in most cases using special eye drops which help to lower the eye’s pressure.
“If people do not have their eyes checked regularly, glaucoma can develop and the damage that is caused cannot be undone, so checking your eyes now may save your sight in the future.”
* When symptoms of glaucoma do appear they can include: intense eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, a red eye and headache.
* In England around 480,000 people have the most common form of glaucoma - chronic open-angle glaucoma .In all 2% of UK over 40s have glaucoma.
* Most glaucoma cases are caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye when fluid is unable to drain properly and resultant damage to the optic nerve. For more information see www.nhs.uk/conditions/glaucoma.
* Galloway’s has four centres at Penwortham, Chorley, Morecambe and Southport. Call 01772 744148 or see www.galloways.org.uk