Wakefield guide dog owner highlights importance of regular eye checks after ignoring symptoms for years
This week is Glaucoma Awareness Week and guide dog owner Natasha Mitchell from Ossett is calling out for people to ensure they schedule in regular eye checks, after glaucoma has impacted her life for the last 10 years.
Natasha was diagnosed with acute closed angle glaucoma in 2010 after a rare side effect caused by treatment for postnatal depression.
There are several different types of glaucoma, and Natasha’s condition meant the fluid in her eyes no longer drains properly, raising pressure in her eyes and resulting in sight loss.
Natasha wants to use Glaucoma Awareness Week to raise awareness of regular eye checks.
She said: “I ignored my symptoms for years, thinking they must be mental health issues. I had been hallucinating from stress and lack of sleep, so the rainbows and halos around lights
"I began to see were assumed to be part of my mental health problem rather than a physical one. My red eyes were explained away by tiredness and crying. "
She said that by the time she started to finally self-care a little and go see an optician for a regular eye check, she was rushed straight to hospital and had to undergo emergency eye surgery on both eyes.
"I had lost most of the vision in my left eye and had roughly 45 per cent left in my right eye," she said. "The disease had taken all my peripheral vision.
“After many surgeries over the years and eye drop medications, my pressures have now stabilised. I have regular eye pressure check-ups at hospital to check if the pressures are stable and whether I must alter my medication, or if surgery is thought necessary.
“I struggle with brightness and can’t tolerate the sun and most lights. I struggle in dimly lit places too, needing visual aids to help me.
"The eye pain, severe headaches and nausea are horrendous. I cannot take pain killers to help as I’m limited to what drugs react with the disease. I get tunnel and blurred vision with my remaining vision.
“My sight loss has also led me to have a condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome where I experience hallucinations - really scary things such as a huge wrecking ball coming flying towards me or the Grim Reaper stood in my living room.
"I feel really fearful and embarrassed when I react to these visions and this makes me isolate myself away from people.
“Guide Dogs matched me with Tooty, my amazing guide dog, in 2018. She has changed my life so much for the better. She’s amazing - she’s given me my independence and confidence in mobility outdoors back. She keeps me safe on our walks to the gym together. On my bad days she won’t leave my side – she’s absolutely my best friend.
“I have lost a lot, but I’ve also gained a lot too thanks to Guide Dogs.
“I work out and try to keep fit for mental health benefits and try to eat nutritional food for my eye health. I am always learning and discovering things to avoid, and things to try help fight the disease.
“I want my story to encourage everyone to have regular eye examinations, even when there isn’t an obvious problem. Do not neglect your eyes – it is so important.”
For more information on how you can help support people living with a visual impairment like Natasha live the life they choose, click here.