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Optometrists’ vital role highlighted in Stroke Awareness Month

The Stroke Association has highlighted the vital role that optometrists can play in spotting the signs of a stroke early.

A stroke strikes every five minutes in the UK and it changes lives in an instant. Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, says: ‘All too often, we’ve seen people dismiss a mini-stroke (TIA) as just a funny turn because the symptoms do not appear severe or can fade or disappear. The risk of stroke in the first few days following a TIA is high and that’s why it is often referred to as a ‘‘warning stroke’’. It requires urgent investigation and treatment.

‘We want to get the message out there that a stroke is an emergency, and that optometrists can play a vital role in helping individuals spot the signs of stroke early so that people can get the medical attention they need, especially in cases where they do not experience more typical stroke symptoms.

‘Most vision problems after a TIA do clear up and often there’s a good chance of recovering some or all vision even after a full stroke.’

Two cases have been highlighted by Specsavers during Stroke Awareness Month in May to raise public awareness of the importance of acting fast if you spot any changes in your vision.

In the first case, Edwina Knight from Bridgend Derwent contacted Specsavers at her local Sainsbury’s after losing the vision in her left eye.

She says, ‘I was playing a game on my tablet and my eyes went foggy. I just blamed it on tiredness and my dirty glasses, so went to bed not thinking much of it, but when I woke up I couldn’t see anything out of my left eye. I felt guilty taking up the doctor’s time with everything going on but my daughter eventually convinced me to call them. It was at that point that they said I needed to visit my local opticians immediately.’

After examining her eyes, optometrist director Omair Khan suspected something serious and immediately referred Mrs Knight to hospital. It was later confirmed that she’d had a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, which meant that she was at risk of having a full stroke if she did not receive treatment.

‘During an eye examination, we can spot changes in eye health that indicate a more serious issue, such as a stroke, as evident in Mrs Knight’s case’, says Specsavers Clinical Services Director Giles Edmonds, says, ‘Without access to expert advice and care from optometrists, quality of life could be greatly impacted and wider health put at risk, which is why it is so important that people, especially those who are older, are aware of the vital role that optometrists play.’

In the second case highlighted, Pam Humphries, a 65-year-old NHS health worker noticed a sudden loss in vision when she was in the supermarket. She contacted the Aldershot store and the ophthalmic director Manish Soni asked her to come in for an emergency appointment straight away.

After detecting she had significant peripheral vision loss, he referred her to the local eye department at Frimley Park Hospital where doctors confirmed that she had had a stroke and also discovered that she had a blood clot on the brain. They prescribed blood thinning medicine which ultimately saved her life.

Manish says, ‘I was relieved to learn that Pam’s condition could be treated with medicine only and when she came in for her follow-up eye test her vision had significantly improved and she was so pleased and so grateful.’

Pam says: ‘During lockdown, I wasn’t sure if my local Specsavers would be open but thank goodness I phoned them. I have medical training and trusted my instinct that something wasn’t right. It does scare me to think that if I hadn’t picked up the phone that I might not be here today to tell my story.’

‘I would plead anyone experiencing sudden changes in their vision to call their optician because not only can they spot if something needs further investigation, but they can also arrange that life-saving hospital appointment on your behalf and raise why they suspect an underlining health concern to a fellow healthcare expert.’

Pam says: ‘I cannot thank Manish enough.  He saved my life. It doesn’t bear thinking about what the outcome would have been if I hadn’t called and if he hadn’t insisted on seeing me as an emergency appointment.’

Manish comments: ‘I’m really pleased to hear treatment has gone well for Pam and the outcome has been positive. Her story goes to show just how important it is to get any sudden vision changes investigated promptly.  Specsavers is here for you with our emergency appointment service during lockdown.

‘When we ease out of this period and when we return to a normal, full day schedule of appointments, I would urge those who haven’t had an eye examination in two years to make it a health check priority.  In rarer cases, a customer may not present any symptoms, but we could spot a concern that needs looking into.’

Stroke occurs every five minutes in the UK.  It can happen to anyone, of any age, at any time.

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association says: ‘Pam’s story is one that some people may be surprised to read as loss in vision isn’t one of the more common signs that you may be experiencing a stroke. 

‘It’s always important to remember that a stroke – including a mini-stroke – is a medical emergency. The quicker you’re diagnosed and treated for a stroke, the better your chances of making a good recovery. You won’t be a burden on the NHS and hospital staff have worked hard to put in place measures allowing you to access care safely during the coronavirus pandemic.’

About the Stroke Association
The Stroke Association is a charity working across the UK to support people to rebuild their lives after stroke. They assert that everyone deserves to live the best life they can after stroke. From local support services and groups, to online information and support, anyone affected by stroke can visit stroke.org.uk or call the dedicated Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100 to find out about support available locally.
Their specialist support, research and campaigning are only possible with the courage and determination of the stroke community and the generosity of our supporters. With more donations and support, they help rebuild even more lives.

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