Every 9 minutes in Australia a person has a stroke, making strokes one of the biggest causes of death in Australia, affecting one in four of us. They occur when not enough oxygen gets to the brain as a result of blocked arteries.
The average age of a stroke victim in Australia is 75, however no one is immune to stroke. More than 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by staying active, eating well and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking.
And with next week marking National Stroke Week (Monday 31 August - Friday 6 September), there is no better time than now to take a look at how strokes can impact vision and what signs we should be looking out for.
Early detection of a stroke can aid in the recovery and in some situations, save lives. There are a range of different signs of stroke, but when it comes to vision specifically, there are some critical indicators, including:
- Double vision
- Sudden visual loss or temporary loss of vision in one eye
- An area of vision is missing (for example, everything on the left side is missing)
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it's important you dial emergency services immediately.
When it comes to early detection of strokes, one way is to have regular eye examinations. A key early indicator of artery blockage (often resulting in a stroke) is white flecks appearing in the blood vessels of the eye. Your optometrist is able to identify indicators such as these during a routine eye examination.
For those who have suffered a stroke, part of their brain will have been damaged as a result, potentially leading to a range of health complications. The severity of this varies depending on the individual case and how quickly a stroke has been detected, however in good news for some, the damage can repair over time.
If the part of the brain that controls vision is damaged, a person's vision may be affected resulting in a number of different problems.
Common side effects of stroke on vision include:
- Vision field loss is the inability to see a section of your field of vision and often occurs after having a stroke when the vision areas of the brain are damaged. After a stroke this part of the brain cannot be restored, although individuals experiencing vision field loss can receive treatment in order to make the most of the vision they have left.
- Having a stroke can also lead to eye movement problems as the nerve that controls our ability to move our eyes can be damaged, which in turn sees stroke sufferers lose control of their eye muscles or have droopy eyelids. Depending on the extent of the damage, therapy or surgery may be used as treatment.
- Similarly, eye tracking is the ability to move your eyes from one point to another with smooth movement and few to no incidents of losing your place while doing so. For example, reading this line without losing your place or having to move your head around is an example of eye tracking. Having a stroke can contribute to eye tracking issues so this is another side effect to be aware of.
- Dry eyes often occur after having a stroke due to the weakness in face and eyelid muscles. As a result, stroke sufferers may have difficulty closing their eyelids completely, resulting in dry eyes. Dry eyes can be rectified by using eye drops, however it’s best for individuals experiencing dry eyes to consult their optometrist for expert advice on the best treatment.
The best way to prevent long term damage is detecting early symptoms quickly and calling emergency services. The Stroke Foundation has put together the ‘FAST test’, which is an easy way to recognise and remember the signs of a stroke:
Face - Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms - Can they lift both arms?
Speech - Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time - Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.
It is imperative to have regular eye examinations to maintain good vision for life. If you are experiencing changes to your vision or are concerned about your eye health, visit your local optometrist for expert advice. If you believe you are having a stroke or you think someone is having a stroke call 000 immediately.