How to protect your vision for future years: Emma’s glaucoma story

Photography Focal Point Photos

Whatever your age, protecting and preserving your vision is important as it allows you to keep doing all the things you love.

Emma (34) was a 14-year-old teenager living in Christchurch when her mum noticed that she was squinting while watching TV, despite wearing glasses, and convinced her to get her eyes checked by an optometrist. They were shocked to hear from the optometrist that Emma had glaucoma as she hadn’t noticed any changes to her vision and thought that glaucoma only affected older people. She feared that she would go blind and would not be able to travel the world as was her dream. In Emma’s case, her treatment included surgery and has meant that she will use eye drops for the rest of her life.

Emma was determined not to let glaucoma steal her travel dreams, so from her late teens to mid-twenties she lived abroad in London and Saudi Arabia and travelled frequently. Travel with glaucoma was not without its challenges, for example, qualifying for travel health insurance cover, travelling through airports with medication, and storing her eye drops in the fridge.

In 2014 she moved to Auckland, where she now resides, and has navigated further challenges as a result of her glaucoma condition, relating to relationships, family, and pregnancy – all of which she was initially able to find little information on but found support through open conversations with her ophthalmologist and Glaucoma NZ on these topics.

Emma wants to share her story with others facing a glaucoma diagnosis to help them to realise that they are not alone, glaucoma is not a just an older person’s disease, and that glaucoma does come with challenges, but you can overcome them. She would also like to spread the message to Kiwis that it’s important to get your eyes checked at an optometrist if you notice any changes to your vision, whatever your age, or if you are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma (if you are aged 40 or older or have a family history of glaucoma).

Glaucoma has given Emma a real appreciation for what she has in life and can see and do; “I don’t have to live with the fear that I’m going to go blind anymore – I know that glaucoma is manageable, and I can live a good life and build relationships. You can see everything and live well with glaucoma, and that’s definitely my plan,” she says.

This March is New Zealand’s Glaucoma Awareness Month, and the charity Glaucoma New Zealand are encouraging all Kiwis to prioritise eye health. They are calling for anyone who notices changes to their vision, has a family history of glaucoma, or are aged 40+, to get eye health checks to detect glaucoma, aka the ‘Sneak Thief of Sight’. Eye health checks are the best way to prevent this insidious eye disease from stealing vision. Their annual awareness month also coincides with World Glaucoma Week, a global initiative to raise awareness and encourage testing for glaucoma from 12 to 18 March.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve and are New Zealand’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. As glaucoma appears in many different forms, and in its early stages can show no symptoms, the best way to catch glaucoma is through regular eye exams at an optometrist. Any eyesight loss from glaucoma can’t be reversed with treatment, but with early identification, disease progression can be slowed.

Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer

Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer, Chairwoman of Glaucoma New Zealand, says; “The best way to catch glaucoma early and protect your vision for future years is by having regular eye exams, including an optic nerve test, which are simple and painless. If you’re 40 or over, get regular eye health checks at your local optometrist and together let’s catch glaucoma and save our sight.”   

Throughout March, thanks to the support of this year’s Glaucoma Awareness Month sponsors – Specsavers, OPSM, AbbVie, and Glaukos, Glaucoma New Zealand are calling for Kiwis to help them to catch the glaucoma Sneak Thief of Sight, and reduce unnecessary blindness for thousands throughout the country.

Visit glaucoma.org.nz to learn more about glaucoma, how to protect your vision, and to donate to join Glaucoma New Zealand’s fight for sight.

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