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Written on 27th May 2020 by

In a recent post, we discussed how blindness and visual impairment are often a devastating feature of the serious brain injury claims that we pursue for our clients at Boyes Turner. In this article, we look at two common causes of blindness and loss of eyesight which arise from untreated conditions within the eye: glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Glaucoma and retinal detachment are both common, natural causes of visual impairment but with correct and timely treatment the patient’s eyesight can often be preserved.

Claims arise when the patient’s blindness or visual impairment have been caused by errors in ophthalmic care. Where the negligent mistake or delayed diagnosis and treatment has significantly impaired the patient’s eyesight, leaving them blind or partially sighted, they may be entitled to compensation for that injury and its impact on their life.

Compensation for blindness or significant loss of vision can help ease the financial burden which is caused by the individual no longer being able to work, and pay for essential care, specialist technology and equipment, home adaptations, rehabilitation and other needs arising directly from the individual’s additional visual disability.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a serious condition in which the optic nerve is damaged by increased pressure of the fluid within the eye. It is thought that in the UK, 2% of people over the age of 40 have glaucoma. It is currently the most common cause of blindness in the UK.

Leading sight loss charity, RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) provide information on their website about the different types of glaucoma:

  • Primary open angle glaucoma

Primary open angle glaucoma (or chronic open angle glaucoma) is the most common type of glaucoma. 480,000 people in England have this type of glaucoma. Primary open angle glaucoma is progressive. This means that it causes damage to the optic nerve and visual changes slowly over time.

  • Closed angle glaucoma

In this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged quickly from a sudden rise in eye pressure.

  • Normal tension glaucoma

In normal tension glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged by normal fluid pressure levels within the eye.

  • Secondary glaucoma

As its name suggests, secondary glaucoma is caused as a reaction to something else affecting the eye, such as another eye condition, an injury to the eye, or medication.

  • Congenital glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma is the name given to glaucoma in babies when they are born with the condition.  

Treatment of glaucoma involves reducing the eye pressure to prevent optic nerve damage and preserve the patient’s eyesight.

Glaucoma is a permanent condition. If caught early, glaucoma can often be managed by the patient using eye drops. They may have to do this for the rest of their life. If the pressure within the eye cannot be managed safely with eye drops, surgery may be needed to reduce the pressure and the risk of sight loss from optic nerve injury.

As primary open angle glaucoma is progressive, it worsens over time. If treatment is delayed, the increasing pressure within the eye can cause irreparable damage to the optic nerve and the patient may suffer irreversible sight-loss.

Compensation claims for blindness or visual impairment from glaucoma often arise from delays in diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of the condition. Reports by GIRFT (the Getting It Right First Time NHS care quality improvement programme), and HSIB (the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch which investigates patient safety incidents) have highlighted that many glaucoma patients experience unacceptable and dangerous delays in monitoring and treatment. Where negligent treatment for glaucoma causes blindness or significant visual impairment, the patient may be entitled to make a claim.

What is retinal detachment?

The retina is a light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye which converts images into signals and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve. When this membrane or lining pulls away from its normal position at the back of the eye, this is known as retinal detachment.

Symptoms of retinal detachment must be treated urgently, as this condition can quickly lead to sight loss in the affected eye. Common symptoms of a detached retina include the patient seeing:

  • dots or floaters, or an increasing number of them in their vision;
  • flashes of light in their vision;
  • a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across their vision.

The NHS urges people to seek urgent advice from NHS 111 if their vision is affected by any of the above symptoms.

Prompt diagnosis and referral to an ophthalmology specialist for treatment is essential to give the patient the best chance of preserving their eyesight when retinal detachment occurs. The form of surgical treatment will depend on the severity of the retinal tear or detachment. Delay can lead to permanent blindness. Where a patient’s blindness or significant visual impairment was caused by delays in diagnosis, referral or treatment of retinal detachment, they may be entitled to claim compensation for the avoidable injury and its financial consequences.

If you have suffered blindness or visual impairment from medical negligence, you can find out more about making a claim by emailing us at mednegclaims@boyesturner.com.