Around 100 people start to lose their sight every day, half of whom could have been saved from blindness through regular eye examinations and the application of state-of-the-art diagnostic technology, writes Yvonne Gordon
Advances in technology are now addressing previously untreatable conditions and making quality eyecare more accessible.
London Eye Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Bobby Qureshi uses light-adjustable lenses to give patients virtually perfect vision. “Even after an eye-operation, we can correct long sight, short sight or astigmatism, or make the lens varifocal by changing it at molecular level through a computer,” he says.
“In cataract surgery, our machine makes a 3D picture without touching the cataract and then almost dissolves it in 30 seconds without discomfort, using an incredibly precise femtosecond laser.
“For glaucoma we utilise lenses with computerised built-in pressure monitors which transmit wirelessly to the patient’s USB stick. This helps earlier diagnosis and treatment-monitoring. These techniques are not science fiction – our clinic uses them regularly.”
Karen Sparrow, from the Association of Optometrists, adds: “Consulting rooms are much more high-tech nowadays. The electronic visual-field analyser, for example, creates a visual field map, useful for glaucoma diagnosis.
“Some opticians now provide an iPhone app for a quick vision test. In Northampton optometry practice Tompkins Knight, patients’ details are also typed into an iPad for convenience. So optometrists have prescription and eye-image history on tap.”
These techniques are not science fiction – our clinic uses them regularly
RNIB eyecare adviser and optometrist Sonal Rughani says technological progress is significant in previously untreatable age-related macular degeneration (AMD). According to Macular Disease Society chief executive Helen Jackman: “Focus gradually diminishes in dry AMD, but in wet AMD vision distortion is rapid with straight lines appearing wavy. If this happens see a specialist immediately, because injections can now stall wet AMD if caught early.”
Simon Barnard, of London optometrists Barnard & Levit, says: “Visual dysfunction in children is sometimes associated with learning difficulties. Tinted lenses may help, following assessment by the Intuitive Colorimetry instrument.”
Their state-of-the-art equipment includes computerised Thompson eye charts and OCT (optical coherence tomography) which uses light waves to detect eye disease. In addition, the Optomap can produce wide-field digital images of 80 per cent of the retina’s blood vessels, potentially diagnosing conditions including retinal detachment, hypertension and AMD.
Gavin Rebello, partner at Essex optometrists Patrick & Menzies, emphasises that technological innovations can detect subtle eye changes and often stop deterioration. “OCT displays a 3D cross-section image of the retina’s ten layers, which is important because AMD starts in the deeper layers,” he says.
“Yellow pigment in eyes, meso-zeaxanthin, absorbs damaging blue light which causes AMD. If enough pigment isn’t produced, glare sensitivity results, dangerous in night driving.” OCT can also detect glaucoma.
Another advance is the ocular aberrometer which uses computer-generated wavefront technology to measure refractive errors and make custom-made prescriptions.
Healthcare provider Care UK runs diabetic retinopathy screenings where sight is affected through damage to retinal blood vessels and progresses without symptoms. Annual screening can detect changes, halving further visual loss.