Caitlin and glaucoma
How Moorfields gave her a new lease of life
15 September 2022
Caitlin was diagnosed with glaucoma at Moorfields after experiencing eye pain, halos and headaches. After two surgeries, she’s been able to get back to her passion of teaching.
Caitlin’s mum and grandad have both had glaucoma.
As glaucoma can be inherited, Caitlin’s eyesight was monitored regularly from a young age.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition where damage to the optic nerve causes sight loss. It is usually caused by the pressure inside your eye rising too high.
Your eye is full of fluid, which helps it to keep its shape and function properly. If too much fluid builds up inside the eye, the pressure rises and squeezes the optic nerve at the back of the eye.
This can cause damage to your optic nerve - a bundle of over a million nerve fibres that carry signals between your eye and your brain.
Pressure might build up in the eye when:
- fluid is stopped from draining away
- extra fluid is produced after an eye injury or infection - this is called‘secondary glaucoma’
- there is an abnormality in the shape of the eye in children - this is called‘congenital glaucoma’
Glaucoma tends to develop slowly over many years. As there is currently no cure for glaucoma, treatment focuses on early diagnosis, careful monitoring and regular treatment to help prevent further sight loss.
9 in 10
people diagnosed with glaucoma today who get the treatment they need will retain useful sight for the rest of their lives
It is not currently possible to repair the optic nerve once it has been damaged, so any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be recovered. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.
There are usually no symptoms of a rising pressure in the eye until sight loss occurs, so regular eye tests are the best way to help spot the condition early.
At the age of 18, opticians noticed that Caitlin’s eye pressure was higher than it should be and she was referred to her local hospital.
They gave her eye drops to take once a day. These drops successfully lowered Caitlin’s eye pressure for four years.
However, over time, the eye drops became less effective at keeping her eye pressure at a safe level.
Halos and headaches
Caitlin experienced several painful symptoms. She saw halos (rings round lights) and had blurred vision. Alongside this, she suffered from intense eye pain, paraesthesia, headaches, tiredness, and vomiting.
In the months prior to my surgery, I spent at least one night a week in my local A&E as my pressures were rocketing. I was working two jobs and repeatedly had to leave work. I had to miss social arrangements and delay my teacher training.
‘Moorfields was phenomenal’
Caitlin was seen by a consultant at Moorfields who diagnosed her with glaucoma. She has bilateral juvenile open-angle glaucoma.
Within the same day, she was booked in for her first eye surgery. She had two trabeculectomies in two months.
What is a trabeculectomy?
There are several types of glaucoma surgery.
Glaucoma operations lower the eye pressure, and your eye doctor (ophthalmologist) will talk to you about which operation is best for you.
A trabeculotomy is when the surgeon creates a completely new drainage channel from the inside of the eye to the surface using a tiny flap in the white of the eye.
The fluid that escapes from inside the eye collects under this flap (bleb) and trickles back into the blood stream.
Anti-scarring medicine is used on the eye during the operation to stop the new channel closing up.
After surgery, patients are given eye drops to take home and use several times a day for a few weeks. These treat inflammation (redness and soreness) and prevent infections.
Glaucoma operations are usually successful and the pressure goes down, although sometimes more than one operation is needed to achieve this.
The care I received at Moorfields was phenomenal. Everyone I encountered throughout my journey was fantastic, kind, caring and supportive. My consultant was the first person who took time to answer all of my questions and explain everything thoroughly.
A new lease of life
Since having the treatment, Caitlin’s eyesight has improved hugely. She is now not on any medication at all and just attends regular check-ups to check her eyes.
Now that her condition is stable, Caitlin’s been able to get back to pursuing a teaching career.
I have a new lease of life. I’m now halfway through my teacher training and looking forward to the future.
Stay positive and don’t panic
Caitlin’s advice to anyone newly diagnosed with glaucoma is to stay positive, tell yourself not to panic, and take everything one step at a time.
There is a massive support network out there for people with glaucoma and the advancement in treatment is extensive.
She also recommends eating healthily, taking medication correctly and listening to your doctor.
How you can look after your eyes:
- Take regular breaks from screens
- Eat a balanced diet and if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation
- Seek help to stop smoking
- Don’t shower with your contact lenses in
- Follow the instructions correctly if you’ve been prescribed eye drops
- Get regular eye tests
If you are concerned about your eyes, please speak to your GP or optician in the first instance. They will be able to advise on whether you need more specialist care and refer you as appropriate.