‘It started with a headache … then I lost most vision in one eye’
Connie Liu was 18 when she was diagnosed with glaucoma, an eye disease for which there is no cure.
Connie, 46, from Sydney, tells us her story – and why it’s so important to know the signs of glaucoma:
“I was living in New York and studying 10 to 12 hours a day when I was diagnosed with glaucoma.
I developed a headache that started at my eyeball and went through my eye to the back of my head.
I thought it was because I was reading a lot, so I put up with the pain for about a year.
When I eventually told my uncle, he arranged an eye check-up because we thought I needed a new prescription for glasses.
But my eye pressure was 45 when it should be around 12 and I had glaucoma, which I’d never heard of.
The specialist explained that if the pressure wasn’t reduced, I’d permanently lose my eyesight.
I’d already lost 40 per cent of vision in my left eye and I’d compensated without realising.
I thought there must be a tablet or eyedrop to fix it but within two weeks I had my first surgery and had to defer school for a year.
Surgery created a drainage hole in my eyeball – a needle point – to lower pressure.
After surgery I had injections in my eyeball for five days to prevent the drainage hole healing.
I’m now 46 and have had that surgery four times.
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Learning to live with glaucoma
I’ve lost 80 per cent of eyesight in my left eye so balance is an issue, but I’ve worked out a system to navigate daily life.
When I’m taking the stairs, I look for cues such as shadows and debris on surfaces to help me see differences in height.
I don’t wear make-up much, because if I close my right eye to put on eyeliner, I can’t see what I’m doing using my left eye. And I choose not to drive anymore.
I don’t know why I have glaucoma and I never expected it to happen to me.
But I’ve learned that if you are worried about your eye health, don’t wait – get your eyes checked.”
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What to know about glaucoma
- Glaucoma happens when the optic nerve is damaged, mostly due to a build-up of fluid pressure inside the eye. There is no cure.
- Around 300,000 Australians have glaucoma.
- If you have a first degree relative with glaucoma, you have up to a 10-fold increased risk of getting it.
- Around 50 per cent of people are undiagnosed. Regular eye tests are important to detect the problem.
Glaucoma risk factors
Although anyone can get glaucoma, some people have a higher risk – they are those with:
- A family history of glaucoma
- High eye pressure
- Age over 50
- African or Asian descended ethnicity
- Short or long sightedness
- A previous history of eye injury
- Past or present prolonged use of cortisone drugs (steroids)
- High or low blood pressure
Source: Glaucoma Australia (Call: 1800 500 880)
World Glaucoma Week is March 10-16.
Written by Sarah Marinos.