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Auckland teacher gobsmacked by glaucoma diagnosis

When Onehunga High School teacher David Eastwood noticed he was struggling to read small print he thought he had better get his eyes checked.

“I started noticing I was having trouble reading so I thought I’d better get my eyes tested. I’d never had an eye test before because my eyesight had been fine,” says David, 55.

He went along to the University of Auckland Optometry Clinic to get his eyes tested.

“My test was fine and they gave me reading glasses and it was all good. A couple of years later my wife decided she should get her eyes checked so I decided I’d get mine checked again.”

What came next left the technology teacher reeling.

“They examined my eyes and told me I had primary open angle glaucoma. It was such a shock, I couldn’t believe it. In that time since my last check-up, I’d developed glaucoma and I had absolutely no idea. I had no symptoms or anything.”

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve. The nerve fibres progressively die taking away the peripheral vision first. Glaucoma is known as the silent thief of sight because there are no symptoms until the disease is quite advanced.

It’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in New Zealand. It’s estimated 115,000 Kiwis over 40 years have glaucoma, but only half of them know it. That leaves 57,000 people who could potentially lose their eyesight.

While there is no link between needing reading glasses and developing glaucoma, David’s check-up picked up the disease.

He was then referred to an ophthalmologist at the Manukau SuperClinic in South Auckland.

“I had laser surgery on both eyes and every day I have to take two different drops at different times of the day,” he says.

“I’m so lucky it was picked up otherwise I could have lost my sight. Having trouble reading was the trigger for me to get a check-up. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have had a check up and I could have gone blind.”

World Glaucoma Week

David is sharing his story publicly for the first time to support World Glaucoma Week, which runs from 10-16 March to raise awareness about glaucoma and encourage people to get regular eye check-ups.

David’s prognosis is good thanks to his glaucoma being caught early and he urges everyone to get regular eye examinations.

“Even if your eyesight is fine, you should get regular check-ups because you could have glaucoma and not even know.”

A family history of glaucoma can increase the risk of the disease tenfold, however David has no history of glaucoma in his family.

Glaucoma New Zealand Chairwoman Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer says glaucoma is a silent disease that can leave people legally blind before they notice any symptoms.

For glaucoma detection, Glaucoma New Zealand recommends people have an eye examination by the age of 45 then every five years after that until age 60, then every two to three years after age 60.

“However, if you notice a change in your eyesight you should have an eye examination immediately or if you have a risk factor such as a family history of glaucoma, then you should get your eyes tested more frequently,” she says.

David, who lives in Howick, says it was inspiring to hear Glaucoma Ambassador and Newshub National Correspondent Patrick Gower share his glaucoma story last July during Glaucoma New Zealand’s Annual Appeal.

“The more people know about glaucoma and how to prevent it through regular check-ups the better.”

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