2 Apr 2023

'It was quite a shock' - Buller mayor's health surprise during cyclone

6:42 am on 2 April 2023
Buller mayor Jamie Cleine

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine thought his eyesight was deteriorating due to age. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Jamie Cleine was struggling to read messages on his phone and suffering from headaches when a Buller District Council colleague suggested he get an eye test.

The Buller mayor had put his deteriorating eyesight down to getting older, but the next time he was in Christchurch, he had an eye test at an optometrist inside the mall.

"Specsavers picked up that I had suspected glaucoma and reasonably significant eyesight loss, which was quite a shock."

He needed to be seen by a specialist for an eye pressure test.

"It was August when I travelled up to Nelson to meet my specialist and he confirmed the diagnosis of glaucoma in both eyes, with reasonably significant damage in my left eye and lesser damage in my right eye."

Ministry of Health data shows anyone can develop glaucoma, but the risk increases with age.

About 2 percent of New Zealanders over 40 years of age have the eye disease and people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop it.

The diagnosis came at an extremely busy time for Cleine - while both Nelson and Buller were in a state of emergency, with hundreds of households evacuated due to severe rain and flooding.

Cleine said looking back, he had always had good eyesight and the progression occurred quickly.

"I was really struggling to read text messages and anything on my phone, to the point where I had just about given up on bothering to look at it without a magnifying glass and I really thought I probably just needed reading glasses."

He said the symptoms were subtle and not out of order with what one would expect as their age progressed.

"The bits of your vision that you lose with glaucoma is initially stuff you don't notice, it's your peripheral vision, so by the time you're noticing that loss, your glaucoma can be at quite an acute stage."

Glaucoma affects vision by elevated eye pressure causing progressive damage to the optic nerve. Treatment involves managing the pressure inside the eye to reduce the damage.

For Cleine, that means eyedrops three times a day, to keep the pressure under control.

"With management, it's pretty highly unlikely that I'll lose sight completely but glaucoma is a variable disease that varies for everybody and it's just something that's going to have to be closely watched and monitored for the rest of my life."

His message to others experiencing deteriorating eyesight was to get a proper eye health check, in case they were in need of more than just reading glasses.

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