'I didn't know I had glaucoma'

Johannesburg-based health coach Lee Potgieter (49) was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2008.

22 January 2015
by Karen Nel

Her initial diagnosis of glaucoma came as a total surprise, relates Lee. "I went for a routine annual eye test for my reading glasses in 2008. They do a test where a machine sends through a burst of air into the eye to test the fluid pressure in the eye – known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Prior to this diagnosis I had experienced no symptoms at all and I hadn’t noticed anything different with my vision. It was quite a shock to be told, ‘You have a problem’!”

Normal IOP is between 10 mmHg to 20 mmHg. IOP values of over 20 put the patient at an increased risk of being diagnosed with glaucoma. Subsequent tests with an ophthalmic surgeon revealed that the pressure in Lee’s left and right eyes was 25 mmHg and 26 mmHg, respectively, and that she had early-stage glaucoma. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause permanent loss of vision.

Treating glaucoma

Lee was prescribed eye drops which she was told would need to be taken for the rest of her life. “I must confess I felt no different after taking the drops – not the feeling in my eyes, nor in my vision. Six months later I still had no idea whether the drops were working or not, as I felt no different from the time of my first diagnosis by the optician six months earlier.

I had also since embarked on a healthier diet, which had helped with many other health concerns, so I decided to stop taking the medication. However, I must stress that this is not advised if you aren't under the guidance of a nutritionist, doctor or ophthalmologist."

Lee now eats a 100 percent plant-based diet, supplemented with a range of natural products. “I still don't 'feel' anything different in my eyes, but last year when I went for my annual reading glasses check-up with the optician my IOP was 15 mmHg (left) and 16 mmHg (right). I do believe that by eliminating highly processed foods from my diet, my body has been given a better chance to heal itself,” she says.

Eye exercises

Lee also does regular eye exercises to keep her eyes healthy. A few of these exercises include:

  • Follow your fingertip with an extended arm and bring it closer to your nose.
  • Make a figure of eight with your eyes.
  • Make circles with your eyes, then look to the top right and bottom left, followed by the top left and bottom right.

Lee’s advice to anyone who is diagnosed with glaucoma is to not lose heart. “Don’t throw your drops or medication away. Rather start adding supportive foods, supplements and eye exercises to your routine. Increase your greens (spinach, kale and collard greens) and fresh whole foods in your diet. By doing so you will provide your body with the support it needs to heal,” she says. 

The importance of early detection

Because glaucoma has very few initial symptoms, many sufferers go undiagnosed for many years. Regular eye tests are essential to keep your eyes in peak condition and to catch possible eye diseases before they become serious.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com