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The shock news that Coronation Street star Amanda Barrie had lost the sight in one eye, and may become completely blind, has made many people think twice about how much they take their sight for granted.

Amanda was suffering from central retinal vein occlusion.

This is a condition in which the blood is unable to drain from the retina, the back of the eye becomes swollen and the vein so distended that there are many small retinal haemorrhages.

But by far the commonest cause of blindness today is glaucoma, a condition where the eye is damaged by a rise in pressure inside the eyeball.

This can happen "acutely" - the eye suddenly becomes very painful, very red and tender, and your vision deteriorates very quickly. Anyone with acute glaucoma usually gets fast treatment to relieve it - which means drops in the eye and often emergency surgery.

But there is a silent, chronic form of glaucoma with no obvious symptoms. Sufferers don't feel any pain or even discomfort, but their vision is quietly getting worse, without them noticing it.

It is the peripheral vision - your side vision - that goes first. Sometimes people don't know that anything is wrong until they are actually looking down a narrow tunnel of sight, with blackness all around. By that time, most of their eyesight is irreversibly lost.

But if you spot glaucoma in its early stages, you CAN save yourself from joining the 12,000 sufferers who go blind from it every year in Britain.

All over-forties should have a proper eye test for glaucoma, conducted by an optometrist. You will be given three tests. Your optician will examine the back of your eye with an opthalmoscope, measure the pressure in the eye using a simple "puff" of air, and map out your peripheral vision.

The tests take only a short time and are not in the least uncomfortable. If there is any question of glaucoma, a report will be sent to your doctor. For most people, it means taking drops to reduce the pressure in the eyeball every day for the rest of their lives. It may seem a bit of bother - but the alternative is gradual blindness!

Glaucoma can run in families and affect younger adults. For more information, send a 9in by 7in SAE to the International Glaucoma Association, King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 9RS.

The eye examination can also show if you have diabetes or high bloo pressure, or an early cataract. All these conditions can be spotted years before they give you obvious symptoms.

So there are several good reasons for regular visits to your optician, besides getting new glasses.

There are also times when you should visit your doctor for eye care. A sore, red eye should always be treated properly. If it doesn't respond quickly to bathing in warm, salty water, then see your doctor.

It could be the start of acute glaucoma, but it is much more likely to be acute conjunctivitis, an infection of the outer surface of the eye, that usually needs antibiotic ointment or drops.

But a red, painful eye could also be a sign of iritis, inflammation of the front half of the eye, a condition associated with forms of arthritis that needs specialist attention, and very careful prescription. Some red eyes respond to steroid treatment. For others, steroids make things worse. So never use an ointment meant for someone else, even if the symptoms are similar.

There is also "dry eye", in which the tears "dry up". The only answer we have for this is to prescribe artificial tears which you put into the eye as drops every hour or so. It is a nuisance to do, but it is better than the alternative, which is an uncomfortable gritty or sticky feeling in both eyes.

Dry eyes can be linked with a dry mouth and arthritis in a condition called Sjogren's syndrome. There is now a Sjogren's Syndrome Society, which helps sufferers (who are usually women) with this annoying complaint. If your doctor has made this diagnosis, contact your local branch.

GARLIC has the reputation of being a "healthy" food, if a bit anti-social. Now Leipzig researchers have found that garlic taken along with a fatty meal will help to prevent you absorbing the fat. So the fat levels in the blood after the meal are lower. The meal the Germans used was a full British bacon-and-egg breakfast. With garlic, your fat levels would be around a third less.

FLYING soon? A plane's air pressure is set around a height of 6,000ft to 8,000ft. So if you have sinus or ear problems you may get severe pain as the air inside them expands. It's the same if you've had a recent bowel test. The rules are: NO air travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy, for 10 days after surgery to the bowel or stomach, or for three to four weeks after chest surgery.


Q I HAVE constant pain in my hip, but a replacement isn't advised as the trouble lies in a bent thigh bone. I've been told to get injections. Will they work?

A THEY may well ease the pain if you've got Paget's disease of the bone - which it sounds like. The injections will strengthen the bone - and that should help the pain.

Q THE two small bones at the base of my spine are painful, and the skin stings as if I'm sitting on nettles. I also have difficulty in walking.

A IS the walking difficulty due to a problem with balance, or because of the pain? This may make a lot of difference to the diagnosis. You may have a nerve irritation, but that means an examination of the nervous system and internal organs. Please get along to the surgery.

Q YOU wrote last week about a "walk in" mole clinic. Where is it?

A AT the Skin Department of the Western Infirmary in Glasgow. But you will need a referral from your doctor.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Smith, Tom
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 7, 1996
Next Article:Pop tour health scare.

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