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Family history key to glaucoma prevention

LESS than half of the New Zealand population are aware of family eye health history, potentially putting their sight at risk. As July is Glaucoma Awareness Month, Specsavers is encouraging Gisborne residents to proactively discuss their family eye health history, as glaucoma — the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the country — has strong hereditary links.

According to new research from Specsavers, almost half (44 percent) of Kiwis surveyed know nothing about their family’s eye health history. Despite nearly one in two respondents (49 percent) being aware that eye exams are recommended every two years, over two-thirds (70 percent) continue to prioritise blood pressure and dental check-ups over regular eye checks. Both behaviours put Kiwis at an increased risk of failing to detect the early signs of glaucoma.

Specsavers Gisborne optometrist, Nick Whittingham, says, “It’s worrying to hear that New Zealanders are underestimating the importance of regular eye exams when glaucoma is known as the silent thief of sight, affecting one in 10 New Zealanders over the age of 70”.

Nearly half of the population are unaware they are at risk of developing glaucoma. In particular, those people with a member of their immediate family relative who suffers from the disease are two to three times more likely to develop glaucoma.

“The good news is vision loss caused by glaucoma can be prevented by early detection,’’ said Mr Whittingham. “Find out if glaucoma runs in the family and ensure you and your family members book in for regular eye exams to detect any abnormalities.”

Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that develops over time and can result in irreparable damage to the optical nerve if left undiagnosed. People over the age of 70 are at the highest risk of developing glaucoma.

Digital Retinal Photography (DRP) is included as part of every standard eye exam. This is a powerful tool that allows an image of the patient’s retina to be taken and examined, which can help in the early detection of glaucoma. As part of a partnership with Specsavers and the Automobile Association, AA Members are entitled to free eye examinations every two years.

TIME FOR A CHECK: Gisborne optometrist Nick Whittingham says an eye check every two years can prevent eye conditions such as sight-damaging glaucoma. Picture by Liam Clayton