NEW treatments for eye disease are having a transformative effect on patients lives and are increasingly available in Limerick, according to Dr Marie Hickey Dwyer, consultant ophthalmic surgeon, University Hospital Limerick.
As president of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists, Dr Hickey Dwyer is preparing to host national and international experts in the field at the Strand Hotel for the college’s annual conference from May 13 to 16.
Part of the programme is a public eye health information meeting at the Strand on Thursday, May 15 (6pm) at which Dr Hickey Dwyer and others will discuss the most common causes of sight loss, how to prevent it and what treatments are available in the Mid-West.
And that picture is improving, according to Dr Hickey Dwyer, thanks to a number of replacement and new medical posts currently being filled by the HSE in Limerick and the region.
“We will shortly have four consultants in place. We’ll still be a little on the tight side. Five would be the European average given our population of 350,000 people. We would expect one for every 70,000 or so. But we are improving and it is a very positive step. Often we don’t have many positive things to say within the HSE but this is actually very positive,” said Dr Hickey Dwyer.
A community ophthalmic physician has been sanctioned by the HSE and will soon start assisting in the new diabetic retinopathy screening programme being rolled out across the country. It is a programme eye doctors have been looking to establish for some 20 years, Dr Hickey Dwyer said.
Diabetes presented a significant risk of going blind and “at the moment in Ireland diabetes is the leading cause of severe visual loss for the under-65s and roughly 5% to 8% of the population have diabetes”.
Under the screening programme, which is already up and running in Limerick, “we will we will be in a position to offer those patients who have failed the primary screening timely appointments and hopefully timely care”.
“This is absolutely fantastic because up to now it has been dependent on three consultants in the hospital to absorb all of those patients for everything - including for screening.”
Those who are diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy - and other conditions such as anti-macular degeneration - can also benefit from new treatments, including courses of anti-VEGF injections, a treatment pioneered in Ireland by Dr Hickey Dwyer herself.
Whereas such patients until recent years have had to rely on laser surgery, the newer treatment was less destructive and had proven results.
“I have had patients who have been able to go back to work. Their visual acuity had dropped down so much that they could no longer work but when they get a course of injections... their quality of vision improves enormously.”
The treatments, and increasing awareness of eye disease affecting an ageing population, was putting more pressure on the health service but Dr Hickey Dwyer said she was satisfied the HSE was putting more resources in.
Meanwhile, she is urging people to attend the public information event taking place as part of the ICO conference.
“We are very keen to have as many people come along as possible. People usually come with specific questions pertinent to themselves or their family and that is perfectly alright,” she said.
She agreed the proliferation of PCs, tablets and smartphones - and the effects of glare - was a source of growing anxiety among parents concerned their children were spending too much time in front of a screen.
“There isn’t any absolute proof that children engaging with these devices have more short-sightedness, because that is the likely problem, than other people. Although there is a general impression that the increase in intellectual activity in children, in reading, in Gameboys and all those things, has increased the amount of myopia; to prove these things takes a long time
“Yes, the incidence of myopia is increasing but it was increasing even before some of these technologies came about,” said Dr Hickey Dwyer.
E-readers such as the Kindle, meanwhile, have the full backing of this eye doctor for one.
“They are absolutely fantastic for people who have slightly reduced vision through macular degeneration because they can enlarge the font size and read away at their leisure without having to get large print books. They can get all books and just enlarge the font. I actually encourage people to do it,” she said.
Places for the public information seminar are free but limited and people can register by calling Ciara or Siobhan at the ICO on 01 402 2777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org