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Crook pensioner’s eyesight could be saved by a revolutionary sight mask being trialled by the NHS

A patient with diabetes who feared going blind is pinning her hopes on a pioneering sleep mask to save her sight.

Isobel Foster, 62, is at risk of blindness because she suffers from Diabetic Retinopathy (DR).

The retired childminder and florist, 62, is one of the first patients using the Noctura 400 Sleep Mask which is being trialled by the NHS across the UK, as well as being prescribed by selected opticians.

There are 3.5million people in the UK with diabetes, and this number is growing rapidly.

After 20 years of being diagnosed with diabetes, nearly all patients with Type 1 and 60% of patients with Type 2 diabetes will have some degree of retinopathy.

During the night, as the eye adapts to the dark, it requires more oxygen than it does in the daytime. In patients with diabetes, who have circulation problems, this need for extra oxygen cannot be met and their retina begins to suffer the effects of a severe lack of oxygen. The body’s response is to grow new blood vessels. However these new vessels are weak, prone to bleeding and leakage of fluid in the eye. In the worst cases, this can cause blindness.

Traditional treatments involve laser surgery or invasive injections into the eye, and are usually only offered when a patient’s eye condition deteriorates.

But the new sleep mask, which harnesses the power of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), can be used at all stages through the progression of the disease. It can also be used as a preventative care treatment.

The mask is designed to be worn by the patient at night while they sleep and it emits a low level green light to reduce the eyes’ need for oxygen and stop damage from occurring.

Isobel said: “I really did wonder if I would lose my sight completely. I hoped the sleep mask would stabilise my condition. I didn’t expect I would have improvements, but I have. I’ve noticed I can now read labels and price tags when I’m out shopping, which I’d never have been able to do a few months ago.”

Isobel, who lives in Crook, County Durham, was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes around 25 years ago.

She said: “I had lost a lot of weight and I could have drunk the seas dry so I recognised the symptoms. It is the lifestyle changes that get to you, particularly as my three children were young at the time and I was also working as a childminder.

“I had to have four or five insulin injections a day and you have to eat at certain times of the day. I was pretty good at spotting the symptoms if my blood sugar levels were low. You have to make sure you’re looking after yourself when you’re looking after children. I do pilates and zumba and I walk a lot, so I try to make sure I’m doing the right things.”

Isobel, who worked as a social services childminder before having a career change and becoming a florist, developed DR 15 years ago.

She said: “I was reaching up to get some flowers and put a bouquet together when blood suddenly burst up inside my right eye. It’s rare to actually be able to see a bleed so it was terrifying.”

Isobel has now had so many laser treatments she has lost count.

She added: “They’re damaging my eye balls to try to save my eyesight. The treatment has moved on. When I first started having it, the laser felt pretty hot. It’s better than it was, but it’s still not a pleasant experience.”

No longer able to drive because of poor peripheral vision, Isobel has also been forced to give up work as her lack of spatial awareness meant she became disorientated using the phone, till and card machines.

A mum-of-three and grandmother-of-five, Isobel feared losing further sight. Her fifth grandchildren, Beatrix arrived five weeks ago.

She said: “Not being able to see my grandchildren is my worst fear. I also like reading, although I’ve had to buy a Kindle because of the small print in most books. I can’t see certain shades and tones like yellows and sometimes I can’t see the weeds until they get fairly big, but I still love gardening.”

Since starting to wear the Noctura 400 Sleep Mask nine months ago, Isobel, who is married to project manager David, has had no further laser treatment and no further bleeds.

The Noctura 400 sleep mask has won numerous awards, including a Bright Ideas in Health Award, which is given to innovations which are making a difference within the NHS.

Richard Kirk, CEO of makers PolyPhotonix, said: “The Noctura 400 Sleep Mask has a CE certification which requires proof of efficacy as well as safety. The device has completed a number of clinical trials successfully to gain the CE certification.

“Our clinical trial and study data has demonstrated that Noctura 400 is the first of its kind to offer a home-based, non-surgical and non-invasive monitored treatment for DR at a fraction of the cost of current methods.

“The Noctura 400 Sleep Mask could potentially save the sight of, and transform the lives of, millions of people who are affected by DR in the UK and around the world.”