A mask that shines green light into the eye during sleep could save the sight of thousands of Britons facing blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy, one of the main causes of vision loss in people of working age in the UK, occurs when high blood-sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina.
The condition causes the vessels to swell and leak fluid or close off completely, and sometimes causes abnormal vessels to appear on the surface of the retina.
The Noctura 400 eye mask, which patients wear at night while they sleep, emits a low-level green light through the eyelids which mimics daylight.
Although the light initially appears bright, the eyes quickly adjust. The mask interferes with the process that usually causes the eye to produce new blood vessels when it gets dark.
While this tissue growth is beneficial for those people without diabetes, in those with diabetic retinopathy it increases the production of smaller blood vessels prone to damage and swelling which contribute to loss of vision.
Until now, diabetic retinopathy has been treated with lasers, which can help to seal broken blood vessels and destroy damaged ones.
But three per cent of patients experience some loss of peripheral vision and more than half will have some difficulty with night vision as a ‘side effect’.
In about a third of patients, the treatment won’t work at all and these patients may go on to have injections into the eye of a drug called Lucentis.
The injections are carried out under local anaesthetic at a cost of £1,000 each. They have to be given once a month for at least six months, and in most cases they are less effective as time goes on.
The Noctura 400 is currently being evaluated by rationing body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and trials are under way in teaching hospitals including Moorfields in London. The plan is for the technology to be rolled out to the NHS next year.
According to Professor Ian Grierson, a trustee of Moorfields Eye Hospital and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Liverpool, who is involved in running the trials and research into the mask, as many people as currently benefit from laser surgery could stand to benefit from the new device.
‘I envisage it being used as a first-line defence for patients who are in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy,’ he says. ‘The eyes of diabetic patients are closely monitored through annual checks, which aim to pick up the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
The mask is going to be suitable where an ophthalmologist can see changes in the back of the patient’s eye that indicate he or she could be on the path to visual loss but before the patient has noticed a change in their vision.’
Prof Grierson believes the mask could also be used as a last resort for patients for whom laser therapy hasn’t worked and for those patients who want an alternative to unpleasant injections.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. It can be controlled with regular insulin injections, but if left untreated a build-up of glucose can cause damage to the small vessels, nerves and organs.
One type 1 diabetes patient currently testing the mask is Ella Woodhouse, 22. She started using it last week, having already undergone laser therapy and injections.
The graduate in fashion design from Sheffield says: ‘As a teenager, I did not take my insulin as regularly as I should have. It wasn’t bright because it allowed my sugar levels to rise at certain times.’
Earlier this year she started suffering blurred vision and then, to her horror, lost sight in one eye temporarily due to a burst blood vessel.
‘The injections helped and I’ve got my sight back,’ she says. ‘But my parents then saw some information on the internet about the light mask and my ophthalmologist said I should try it to prevent further damage.’
Every three months for a year, ophthalmologists will monitor her eyes and find out if their condition has deteriorated further.
Ella, who wants to be a Savile Row tailor, is now taking her medication properly and says: ‘I will do anything to avoid losing my sight again.’
PolyPhotonix, the company that invented the mask, is also looking to start trials for treating age-related macular degeneration of the eye. This is also caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels on the retina and is the biggest single reason for loss of eyesight in the elderly.
Prof Grierson adds: ‘We hope by next year to have the technology approved for use in the NHS. Initially it will be for long-term use, but some patients might only need to wear it short-term.’
Original story http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2780765/Saved-diabetic-blindness-simply-sleeping-eye-mask-New-technology-save-thousands-Brits-facing-loss-sight.html