Sheryll Karpel had just finished a yoga class in a low-lit room when she was struck by a pulsing headache around her right eye.
‘The ache spread, but a throbbing feeling remained in my eye,’ says Sheryll, 59, a recruitment consultant from Crouch End, North London. ‘As I went home, I could see halos around everything and my vision was cloudy. I took painkillers and lay down.’
Gradually, the cloudiness and throbbing subsided, and Sheryll believed that she’d had a migraine — although she had never experienced one before.
Sheryll Karpel, 59, first felt a headache around her right eye after a yoga class. The recruitment consultant from North London was told she had a migraine three times by her GP before she was rushed to hospital during a serious attack and diagnosed with glaucoma
Six months later, in 2017, the pain started around her right eye again, followed by a throbbing feeling in her head. Again, she had just emerged from a dimly lit room.
‘Once again, I took painkillers and had to lie down,’ she says. ‘But, two months later, when it happened again, I thought I should see someone.’
Sheryll went to her GP, who told her it was indeed migraine and advised her to keep a diary to identify triggers.
‘But nothing I avoided or ate seemed to make a difference,’ says Sheryll.
In fact, she wasn’t having migraines at all. She had glaucoma — a condition where fluid builds up in the eye, raising eye pressure. This can damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, resulting in sight loss.
Despite visiting her GP three times in all, Sheryll was repeatedly told her eye pain was ‘simply’ a migraine.
Sheryll, pictured in her North London home, said that when the throbbing pain first appeared in her right eye her vision went cloudy and many objects looked as though they had a halo on them (stock image)
But, after one very bad attack, she was rushed to hospital and told she needed immediate sight-sparing surgery.
‘I was so shocked,’ says Sheryll. ‘All these months, I’d been trying to ignore it, believing it was a migraine. Yet I was at risk of losing my sight.’
There are two main types of glaucoma. The most common is ‘open-angle’, where pressure builds because a blockage in the drainage channels of the eye means fluid cannot drain away normally.
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Often, this causes no symptoms, but can be detected during routine eye tests. It is typically associated with ageing and estimated to affect almost half a million people in England.
Sheryll had the less common ‘closed-angle’ glaucoma, which occurs due to eye shape, rather than age.
‘Closed-angle glaucoma is when the iris gets pushed up against the drainage channel by the lens and stops liquid getting out of the eye,’ explains Professor Gus Gazzard, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London.
‘Some people have a lens that takes up more of the eye, so there is less space for the liquid to drain. People who are very longsighted and need glasses for reading quite early in life are also more prone to it. The pressure can rise silently and cause no pain, or happen rapidly — which is normally painful. Typically, it causes a headache just around the eye.’