When Mary Booth made an appointment at Specsavers Didcot for a routine eye examination, she had no idea that the visit would ultimately help to save her sight.

Mary (78), a regular customer at the store, made an appointment for a sight test earlier this year.  She’d not been experiencing any unusual symptoms but thought she might need a new pair of specs as her vision had deteriorated a little.

Early detection 

Mary was seen by the store’s optometrist and store director Rukhsana Bi, who quickly picked up that Mary’s 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.

Glaucoma usually occurs when the naturally-occurring fluid inside the eye does 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. While the condition cannot be reversed, it can be managed – but early detection is key.

‘I managed to get an appointment with an eye consultant within a month and he confirmed Rukhsana's suspicions about glaucoma,’ commented 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.

No symptoms

‘The thought never crossed my mind that I might have glaucoma,’ added Mary.  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.  At least now my two children, now in their 40s, can be monitored early as a result, as glaucoma can be hereditary. I’d recommend everyone visits their opticians regularly irrespective of whether they think they need new specs or not.’

Often symptomless in its early stages, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible sight loss. It is thought to affect 700,000 people in the UK today, but as many as 50% of cases are undiagnosed. All the optometrists at Specsavers in Didcot have completed post-graduate studies in glaucoma. 

‘Mary’s story really does demonstrate how important it is to keep up-to-date with your eye examinations,’ said Rukhsana.  ‘Glaucoma is a progressive disease so the earlier it’s picked up the better, we’re just thankful Mary came in to see us when she did.’

Regular checks 

Karen Osborn, Chief Executive of the International Glaucoma Association, added: ‘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.’

The International Glaucoma Association recommends that everyone should have regular eye health checks at least every two years (every 1-2 years for over 40’s) or more regularly if advised by a health professional.

Around 1,900 Specsavers optometrists in England have achieved the Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre (WOPEC) Level 2 accreditation in glaucoma, as part of Specsavers’ continued focus on training and accreditation for enhanced services. The programme is designed to upskill optometrists, reinforcing their skills in detecting glaucoma and monitoring the signs of its progression. It takes the total number of WOPEC Level 1 and Level 2 accreditations gained by Specsavers optometrists to more than 11,000.

Investment in technology

And more than half of the Specsavers stores in the UK – including Didcot – have already invested in 3D scanning technology which allows optometrists to view the eye in more detail than ever before. The Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) machine is a cutting-edge piece of equipment, usually found in hospital eye departments. It is used for a variety of functions including screening and management of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. 

The technology produces a structural scan of the eye, including layers of the eye that would not normally be visible using traditional eye testing techniques. This means that conditions like glaucoma can be monitored more effectively than before.

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