Patrick Gower: 'I have glaucoma - I have been going blind'

OPINION: I have glaucoma. I have been losing my sight - I have been going blind.

I had no symptoms, no pain, no loss of sight - nothing.

That is what glaucoma does: if you don't know you have it, you start losing your sight and suddenly it is too late - it is gone.

That is why glaucoma is called "the silent thief of sight". It was stealing my sight without me knowing.

Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eyes. You can't feel it, but it grinds away at the eye's optic nerve. And once those nerve fibres are gone, they are gone forever.

It starts by taking your peripheral vision, which is why it is hard to notice. Then it takes your direct sight.

In the final days of the 2014 election campaign I had a detached retina, which required major surgery.

This has nothing to do with my glaucoma at all. But it meant I was having regular check-ups with an eye specialist that picked up my glaucoma at the earliest possible point.

So last year I had laser surgery in both eyes to relieve the pressure. I also use drops to keep control of it.

The good news is the glaucoma is now under control. I am lucky, I got it early and it has worked - I have kept my sight. It could have been a disaster, yet fixing it was easy - but only because I knew.

It is estimated that there are 90,000 people with glaucoma in New Zealand - but only 45,000 have been officially diagnosed. That means there are 45,000 people out there like me who have glaucoma who don't know about it.

That is a real worry, because that means there are 45,000 people who are going blind that don't need to be.

It is the biggest cause of preventable blindness in New Zealand.

That's why I have decided to become an Ambassador for Glaucoma New Zealand to help raise awareness, and July is Glaucoma Awareness month.

If you have glasses, your optometrist can do a basic check. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you should definitely get a check - because I saved my sight, and you can too.

About Glaucoma New Zealand

Glaucoma New Zealand is a charitable trust that relies on public donations, sponsorship, grants and fundraising. It is not funded by the Government. The trust aims to eliminate blindness from glaucoma through: supporting research in New Zealand, raising public awareness, supporting people with glaucoma and providing education for health professionals.

For more information phone 0800 452 826, email info@glaucoma.org.nz or visit www.glaucoma.org.nz

Patrick Gower is Newshub's national correspondent.

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