Man whose father went blind urges people to test for 'silent sight-taker'

Monday 9 March 2020

glaucoma patient raises awareness of eye tests

A man with aggressive glaucoma whose father and grandfather both went blind from the condition is urging others to check their sight.  

Demola Oduyemi, from Sutton, was diagnosed with glaucoma aged 26 and has retained his sight thanks to years of treatment at St Thomas’ Hospital.  

This Sunday (8 March) marks the beginning of Glaucoma Awareness Week and Demola is encouraging other people, especially those who have family with the condition, to get their eyes checked regularly.  

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible and preventable sight loss in the world and affects around half a million people in England. It runs in families and is more prevalent in Afro-Caribbean communities.  

It usually occurs when fluid in the eye cannot drain properly and increases pressure inside the eye, putting pressure on the optic nerve, which is responsible for sight. If it is not diagnosed and treated early it can lead to blindness. While some patients develop symptoms including blurred vision in the late stage of the disease, many patients have no symptoms at all and the condition is only detected through regular eye checks by optometrists.

Demola, who works in customer services and is in his mid-40s, was diagnosed in Nigeria after his father’s sight had been affected. 

He said: “My father went blind with glaucoma, as did my paternal grandfather and my mother also had it, although she wasn’t blind. My father’s doctor told him to get all his children tested for it – I was the only one who had it.

“I had surgery in Nigeria in one eye, which worked for a while, but after two years it started to scar over. After moving to the UK I came to London and I have been very fortunate to be a patient at St Thomas’ for the past 18 years. The care I have received is nothing short of excellent. I have had lots of treatments, from eye drops, laser and surgery in both eyes. 

“My glaucoma is very aggressive – if I had not been diagnosed as early as I was, I would have lost my sight without question. My sight is fine now, and although the road has been bumpy, I can still carry out everyday tasks without hindrance.”

Demola urges everyone to be tested regularly before it is too late. He added: “Glaucoma is a silent sight-taker, silently creeping up on people, damaging the eye and causing vision loss. Lots of people who have the condition might not have any symptoms, and the first they know is losing some or all vision. Remember, vision can be maintained and lost vision cannot be restored.”

Mr Saurabh Goyal, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Most of the patients with glaucoma treated at St Thomas’ are Afro-Caribbean, which is likely to be due to a genetic predisposition. Glaucoma can occur 10 years earlier in this group of patients compared with the general population, so we often see people in their 20s and 30s with glaucoma who may not be aware that they can be affected by the condition as it’s usually associated with older people.

“Our research team led by Mr Sheng Lim has special interest in studying newer treatments for glaucoma in Afro-Caribbean patients, as their glaucoma is more aggressive and difficult to treat.

“Anyone with a family history of glaucoma should have their eyes tested by optometrists every one to two years, even if their vision is not affected.  If the condition is detected early there are many treatments available, including eye drops, laser and surgical options.

“Being able to save the sight of patients like Demola is incredibly rewarding for me and the rest of the glaucoma team at St Thomas’. In the vast majority of cases, glaucoma-related blindness is preventable with early detection and effective management.”

Currently you are entitled to free testing for glaucoma with standard sight tests by optometrists if you are over 40 and have a family history of glaucoma or if you have been told by an ophthalmologist that you are at risk of glaucoma.

Last updated: March 2022

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