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JulEye – Looking after our eye health
The Australian and New Zealand Eye Foundation have launched ‘JulEye’, their annual national eye health awareness month.
This year, the campaign is focused on the eye health risks associated with excessive drinking. Alcohol is associated with more than 150,000 hospitalisations every year, with eye injuries making up a portion of these, either through accidents, violence or forgetfulness.
More broadly, the most common causes of vision loss and blindness in Australia are macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Vision Australia estimates that 89,500 Victorians are blind or have low vision that cannot be corrected. As Victoria’s population grows and ages, this number is likely to increase.
The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital is Australia’s only specialist eye and ear, nose and throat hospital. We’re working to deliver a significant redevelopment of this hospital, with new and refurbished facilities.
We spoke to Dr Cathy Green, who leads the hospital’s Glaucoma Unit, about her role as a glaucoma specialist, how the redevelopment will improve treatment outcomes for Victorians and how we can all look after our eye health.
What is your role at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital?
“I am a glaucoma specialist and Head of the Glaucoma Unit. I work alongside senior ophthalmologists in the management of glaucoma patients. We also have a very strong education component to working – so we also train glaucoma sub-specialists as well as trainee ophthalmologists.”
Can you describe your area of expertise?
“Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the world. It is preventable if it’s caught early and is treatable if it has progressed. Glaucoma presents with a spectrum of disease severity. It can be quite mild and cause few problems, or it can be very severe. However, if blindness occurs, it is irreversible. So, our aim is to try and prevent people’s vision from deteriorating.
Most general ophthalmologists will know how to manage glaucoma but in more complex cases, especially when other aspects of the eye are involved, you need more specialised experience and training. Surgery is also more challenging in complex cases. Not all general ophthalmologists get trained to do specialist glaucoma procedures.
I really enjoy working with glaucoma because it’s not black and white. You need to gather information and make critical choices and decisions about what approach is safest for each patient. The surgery is also very interesting and challenging.
Because it’s a lifelong disease, you also develop rewarding relationships with your patients. It’s incredibly satisfying to have looked after a patient for more than 15 years and find that, because of your treatment, they are still able to see and unlikely to go blind in their lifetime.”
What does a regular day at work look like for you?
“A regular day at work involves either seeing patients or doing surgery. When seeing patients in the outpatients clinic, I work alongside a team with other specialists and trainee doctors. We work with orthoptists and nurses to manage patients having their eyes checked.
If patients are booked in for glaucoma or cataract surgery, I’ll be in the operating theatre. I will sometimes perform the surgery, but more often I’m supervising a senior trainee and teaching them how to perform the operations safely.”
What has been your highlight working at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital?
“For me, the biggest highlight and source of most satisfaction is training. I have been working as a consultant at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital for nearly 20 years. In that time, I have contributed to the training of close to 30 glaucoma specialists. Those specialists have then gone on to do great work around the world. I take a lot of satisfaction and pride in having trained people well – so when they go work elsewhere, they are making a difference as well as training others themselves. It’s about paying it forward – the more people we train well, the better equipped we are to tackle worldwide blindness.”
How will the new hospital redevelopment improve treatment and outcomes for Victorians with eye disease or trauma?
“What I’m really looking forward to is being in a modern, updated physical environment. Good patient flow will allow us to optimise efficiency and provide better care to patients in a safe, and aesthetically pleasing environment. Greater efficiency means we will be able to see more patients – so they don’t have to wait as long – because the physical barriers that make it difficult to see a lot of patients at the same time is gone. Overall, the redevelopment will mean the quality of the visit for patients, families and the people providing care is enhanced.”
This year’s JulEye is all about the risks associated to their eyes from excessive alcohol consumption. What are some of those risks?
“There is a lot of publicity about the dangers of smoking but alcohol also increases the risk of eye disease. There is an association with the development of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. While cataracts are treatable, macular degeneration can cause permanent vision loss. Alcohol can also cause nutritional deficiencies which can made degenerative eye disease worse.
There is also an association with alcohol consumption and trauma. Trauma to the eyeball and eye socket fractures can happen due to accidents or violence resulting from excessive alcohol consumption. These injuries can happen very quickly and can result in permanent loss of vision.
The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.”
How can we look after our eye health?
“All the things that are good for you in general are good for your eyes.
Make sure to eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and antioxidants. Exercise is important too, especially for glaucoma. The Centre for Eye Research in Australia conducted a study on the impacts of exercise on glaucoma using mice. The mice who exercised had better outcomes compared to the mice that didn’t exercise.
If you’re doing work around the house or gardening, or playing a sport like basketball or football, wear eye protection. Protecting your eyes against the sun is also important and reduces the risk of cataract development.
Finally, make sure you get your eyes checked regularly. Glaucoma is the one condition that can be detected early with regular eye checks. Glaucoma often has no symptoms other than slow vision loss. Because the vision loss usually affects one eye and is gradual, by the time you notice it can be very advanced. We recommend that people over the age of 40 have an eye check every two years."
About the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital redevelopment
The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital redevelopment is upgrading the infrastructure of the largest public provider of ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat services in Victoria.
The redevelopment comprises a mix of new buildings and the refurbishment of existing facilities, including the demolition of buildings between the two central tower blocks and replacing with newly built connecting floors and link bridges.
Once operational, the lower levels will treat patients and the upper levels will be used for teaching, training and research.
The redeveloped hospital will have eight operating rooms,14 recovery spaces, 37 same-day beds/chairs and 24 overnight stay inpatient beds.
Learn more about the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital redevelopment via our dedicated project page.
Last updated: 20 July 2021
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