World Glaucoma Week 2018

Last week (11th-17th March) marked World Glaucoma Week, an international effort aimed at raising awareness of the disease and encouraging everyone, especially those who are most at risk, to get regular eye tests.

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve, and it can cause the patient to lose their sight completely if it remains untreated.  It is estimated that glaucoma has claimed the sight of 4.5 million people globally, and that this figure is due to rise to 11.2 million by 2020.

Most people with glaucoma are unlikely to realise they have the disease until it is at its advanced stages.  There is currently no cure for glaucoma and any sight loss that occurs as a result of the condition is irreversible.  However, treatment for the disease does exist, and once the patient has been diagnosed it is possible for them to take action to limit their sight loss.  This is why regular eye checks with an eye-care professional are vital so that the disease is caught in the early stages and treatment can begin as soon as possible.

There are various risk factors that make a person more likely to experience glaucoma, including advanced age, black African or Caribbean ancestry, and a family history of the disease.  This year, World Glaucoma Week was focusing specifically on targeting people who are first-degree relatives (parents, children or siblings) of people with glaucoma to encourage them to get their eyes tested regularly.  First-degree relatives have a ten-fold increase in life-long glaucoma risk, so it is extremely important that those who know they have a close relative with the disease get their eyes checked, and it is also important for people with glaucoma to inform their relatives, where they are comfortable doing so, and to encourage them to have their eyes tested.

World Glaucoma Week has been promoting this issue across the globe, with public talks, radio shows, social media campaigns and much more in countries from Brazil to Nigeria to Indonesia.  Closer to home, Specsavers trained over 2,000 staff about glaucoma in advance of World Glaucoma Week, and the International Glaucoma Association worked with Vision Express to raise awareness of the condition through supporting the Vision Van which toured the UK.  The NHS also produced a free glaucoma guide with information about the condition and tips suggesting how people with glaucoma can manage it.  The guide can be found here: https://www.nrshealthcare.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NRS-Glaucoma-Guide-FINAL.pdf.

For more information about glaucoma and to see what else went on during World Glaucoma Week, you can access their website here: https://www.wgweek.net/.

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Image shows an elderly man getting his eyes tested and the words “Green = Go get your eyes tested Glaucoma Save Your Sight!”.

Written by Nicola Stokes

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Charles Bonnet Syndrome: The Eye Condition That Causes Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations, ranging from spots of coloured light to full-bodied people, are, for many vision impaired people, a normal part of their sight loss.  These are symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), a recognised medical condition which many people with vision impairment experience at some point during their sight loss journey.  As you might imagine, these sorts of experiences can have a profound impact on people’s lives.  However, Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that isn’t always well-understood even by medical professionals, let alone the general public, and so it often goes ignored or misdiagnosed.

I attended a workshop on the first ever Charles Bonnet Syndrome Day on 16th November this year, and there I heard from several people who have experienced the condition first hand.  Their stories brought home just how serious this condition can be.  Some would see grotesque gargoyle-like figures sitting in their living rooms, while others would see patterns covering the floor and walls to such a degree that they became disorientated and couldn’t tell where anything in the room really was.  While there is currently no known cure for CBS, there are various tricks that people can use to help dispel the images, such as wearing sunglasses, adjusting the light levels of the room, or distracting the brain by turning the TV or radio on or off.

However, for many people the first step in dealing with this condition is to understand what it is that they are experiencing.  We heard several sad stories during the day about people with CBS who had been misdiagnosed with dementia, and had therefore never received the right support or treatment for their condition.  It is important to remember that the hallucinations experienced by people with CBS are vivid, but they are visual only, and cannot be heard, felt, tasted or smelled.  But if this is the case, and there is no serious memory loss and no other diagnosed mental health issue, then the hallucinations are more than likely to be the result of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

The charity Esme’s Umbrella, which ran the workshop in November, is there to give information, advice and support to anybody who is experiencing CBS, or who is concerned about someone they know who is living with the condition.  They can be contacted by phone (0345 051 3925) or email (esmesumbrella@gmail.com), and they also have a website with details of coping strategies and the latest research on CBS, which can be found at http://www.charlesbonnetsyndrome.uk/.  If you would like to find out more about the condition, then please do not hesitate to contact them.

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Photo of the Esme’s Umbrella Charity logo. Its design includes dozens of colourful umbrellas and the words ‘Esme’s Umbrella. For everyone working for the greater awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome’.

Written by Nicola Stokes