HEALTH

Doctors Told Patty She Was 'Too Young' For Glaucoma. Now She's Going Blind

Patty fears she won’t be able to see her children grow up.

21/03/2017 10:36 AM AEDT | Updated 24/03/2017 7:28 AM AEDT
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Patty Tsai Griffin, 39, has to wear sunglasses, even indoors, because of her glaucoma.

When Patty Tsai Griffin complained of headaches and vision loss, the then-30-year-old was told by her doctor she was simply short-sighted.

It wasn't until many eye specialist visits later that she was diagnosed with glaucoma, a debilitating and irreversible eye disease generally associated with older Australians.

Nine years since being diagnosed, the Taiwanese-born Australian wears sunglasses most of the time, even indoors, due to the glare and is unable to drive at night.

"You wake up every morning and you see a little bit less than yesterday," she said.

She says glaucoma is like looking through binoculars, as you gradually lose peripheral vision over time.

"The world I see is getting smaller."

You wake up every morning and you see a little bit less than yesterday."

But it's the future that she worries about the most.

"What I can see now is enough to function every day," she says. "But it will only get worse. Human medical science can't reverse the damage that has been done."

The Brisbane mother-of-two wants to raise awareness about the disease, the progress of which can be slowed -- and sometimes even halted -- through treatments such as eye drops, laser treatments and surgery. She believes that if she had been diagnosed sooner, her vision may not be as bad as it is today.

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Patty with husband Sean and two young sons, aged 6 and 11. She hopes her third child, due in May, is also a boy to reduce the likelihood of passing on the hereditary condition.

"Sight is the last thing you want to lose, so it doesn't matter what age you are, what race you are, look after yourself and get checked, as early as you can," she said.

"If your doctor thinks you're too young, get a second opinion because you're never too young."

Glaucoma is a degenerative eye condition where the optic nerve is damaged over time, sometimes due to high pressure within the eye.

Geoff Pollard, the National Executive Officer of Glaucoma Australia, says that while aging is a big factor in developing the eye condition, around 1 in 10,000 Australians are born with the disease.

"One in 200 people have it by age 40, and then it doubles every decade of life so that by the time you're 80 one in eight will have glaucoma," he explained.

Pollard calls it "the sneak thief of eyesight", because there are usually no signs or symptoms until your eyesight has been irreversibly damaged.

He urges everyone to have regular eye check ups, regardless of whether they are experiencing problems with their eyesight.

"The best policy is to have some sort of baseline test with an optometrist or ophthalmologist every two years. That varies depending on your risk."

At least 300,000 Australians are affected, and about half of those do not know they have it.

A new campaign raising awareness about the disease hopes that earlier diagnose will help prevent vision loss in more Australians.

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Patty with her mother and grandmother, who has since passed away. The three generations of women have all been diagnosed with glaucoma.

Glaucoma runs in Griffin's family, with both her mother and grandmother diagnosed with the disease.

"Grandma died in her 80s and she was almost blind -- she could only see you if you stood 10 centimetres in front of her," she said.

You are also ten times more at risk of the degenerative condition if a member of your immediate family has the disease.

Mother to two young boys, aged 6 and 11, Griffin is expecting a third baby in May. She says most people assume she wants a girl, but she is actually hoping for a third boy.

"I don't want the glaucoma to pass on to my children," she explained.

While Griffin has at times struggled mentally to cope with the degenerative and unpredictable disease, she says glaucoma has given her a new perspective.

"I do have a supportive family and beautiful kids around me, whom I cherish.

"Some people, even myself, take things for granted – you wake up each morning and you see the world. It makes me appreciate things more."

People looking for more information on glaucoma and its signs and symptoms can go to the Glaucoma Australia website.

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