Student hours away from losing sight when optician found cause of headache

A college student lost her eyesight within a day after an optometrist discovered that her severe headache was due to excessive pressure in her head.

When Lauren Jenkins, 20, excruciatingly walked into A&E feeling like her head was “in a vice” only to be sent home twice with pain medication after a CT scan was clear, she turned to hers for help Optometrist – she thought she might have a problem with her contact lenses.

But on Monday in late May on bank holidays, the optician discovered a swollen optic nerve, leading to a diagnosis of intracranial hypertension, or a buildup of pressure in the brain that required emergency surgery to keep her from losing her sight.

From left Lauren’s father Simon, her brother Harry, Lauren Jenkins and their mother Laura. PA REAL LIFE

Lauren, who studies psychology at the University of Birmingham and lives in town with her family, said, “Being told by doctors that I could lose my eyesight if they don’t have an operation the next day was very scary.

“It’s not something you expect to ever happen to you.

“My message is that if you have any changes in your vision, you should make an appointment for an eye test, because opticians can tell so much more than just whether you need glasses.”

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Lauren in her gown and compression tights after the operation. PA REAL LIFE

Lauren, who has been with Network Rail apprentice Jack Horbury (20) for three years, got a headache and blurred vision for the first time in May 2021.

As they intensified, she called the NHS emergency number 111 for help.

She said, “At first it wasn’t anything to worry about, but it started to develop.”

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Lauren and her boyfriend Jack on the day she was released from the hospital. PA REAL LIFE

She added, “I ended up moving home from my student house early as it got worse and worse.

“I had constant headaches and spots in my sight and my neck was completely stiff.

“It felt like my head was in a vice and getting squashed all the time – it was really crippling.”

Lauren was advised to go to the emergency room and told she had migraines and was prescribed ibuprofen for pain relief.

However, when the pain worsened, she went to a running center where she was advised to have a sore neck muscle and to prescribe codeine, a stronger analgesic, which made her sick.

She said, “At that point, my headache was non-stop.”

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Lauren and boyfriend Jack on their first date after their surgery. PA REAL LIFE

She continued, “I had a lot of spots in my sight, I couldn’t see properly, and my neck was really stiff. I could hardly move my neck and couldn’t drive. “

On Monday, May Day, she called 111 again and was redirected to the emergency room, where she received a CT scan that came back clear and prescribed even more pain medication.

The next day, still in agony, she decided to book an eye test with Specsavers in nearby Sutton Coldfield, just in case her problems were related to her contact lens prescription.

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Lauren at home a few days after her surgery. PA REAL LIFE

She was seen by one of the store’s opticians, Lakhdeep Kaur, who uses an optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine that provides a detailed structural scan of the eye.

When Lauren realized that her optic nerves were swollen, she was urgently referred to the Birmingham and Midland Eye Center (BMEC).

Relieved to get answers, Lauren wasn’t too concerned about her prognosis at first.

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Lauren and Jack have been together for three years. PA REAL LIFE

“I was a little worried, but I didn’t think it was going to really work,” she said.

“I’ve been to this hospital before with an eye infection so I wasn’t really worried at that point.

“I thought: ‘At least you noticed that something was wrong!'”

After waiting in the emergency room, doctors reexamined her eyes and diagnosed her with idiopathic intracranial hypertension, which meant the cause was unclear, before sending her to a ward overnight for another CT scan.

“I had a lumbar puncture while I was there to try to drain the fluid and many different eye tests,” she said.

To her shock, her case was rated “too serious” for the hospital she was in and she was transferred to the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

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Lauren and Jack on a city break in 2020. PA REAL LIFE

At a neurology ward, Lauren underwent further tests and was told that her vision problems were due to papillary edema – a swelling of the papilla from intracranial hypertension – which led to visual disturbances.

Her case was so severe that the doctors warned her that if she did not operate the next day to relieve the pressure that was causing the swollen disc, she could lose her eyesight.

Lauren said, “They wanted to operate and shunt the next day. They later said that if they hadn’t, I would have lost my eyesight. “

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Lauren Jenkins almost lost her sight. PA REAL LIFE

She added, “It was very scary because you didn’t expect it at all. I could not believe it.”

The next day, she had a three-hour operation to install a pressure monitor in her head and a shunt to channel the fluid from her brain into her stomach.

“It was very disheartening,” admitted Lauren.

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Lauren loves horses and riding. PA REAL LIFE

She continued, “The last time I had a very small operation, I was very small, so I had never seen anything like it.

“It was very nerve-wracking, especially since I was alone in the hospital because of Covid.”

The internally mounted magnetic pressure monitor can be adjusted by doctors to ensure that the pressure in Lauren’s head remains at the correct level.

“The tube runs through my neck and into my stomach,” she said.

“My pressure had built up to 54 when the normal range is 10-20. The shunt is lowering it to normal levels.”

Lauren’s recovery from the surgery has been tough and she is still experiencing side effects from her condition.

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Lauren with Milo, her friend Jack’s dog. PA REAL LIFE

She said, “The recovery has been longer than expected and I quit the retail job I was doing while studying because the effects were so dire.

“It can be painful every now and then as my body gets used to something strange, but the operation was definitely worth it.

“I still have a headache, but it’s not as bad as it used to be and my eyes were permanently damaged – but I’m lucky that they were discovered in time.”

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Lauren’s scar now. PA REAL LIFE

Lauren also tries emotionally to cope with her ordeal.

She said, “It was definitely very traumatic and it was a lot to deal with. I just take it day in and day out and have a great support system with my friends and boyfriend.

“The sight of you is something really precious and it definitely made me more aware of it.”

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Lauren wore a hat to protect her from the sun a week after she was in the hospital. PA REAL LIFE

She continued, “I am very grateful to all the doctors and nurses who have looked after me in the hospital – they have been great.

“It was so close to changing my life for me, but luckily it was captured in time – all thanks to Specsavers.”

Now back at university, which encouraged her to be on the road, she cannot drive yet as the DVLA rules mean that she has to do without it six months after the operation.

She said, “I can’t wait to drive again, but DVLA rules do not allow you to drive with shunts for six months and that got me a bit bogged down.

“But I hope that I can go on vacation next year – maybe for my 21st birthday in May on the Greek island of Santorini, because I’ve always wanted to go there.

“I want to spend my summer doing what I want instead of having headaches and pain.”

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Lauren with her mother Laura. PA REAL LIFE

And Lauren can’t stress enough that if you have vision problems or persistent headaches, you need to get regular eye tests and see an optician.

“I think we tend to underestimate how much opticians can see and see,” she said.

“It’s not just about whether you need glasses – they can help your eye health a lot.”

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Lauren’s stomach wounds from surgery. PA REAL LIFE

She added, “When your eyesight changes, they are the best people. I will certainly encourage my friends and family to take their eye health more seriously now. “

Optician Lakhdeep Kaur is happy that she is so much better now.

She said, “I’m so glad Lauren is on the way to recovery.”

She continued, “Cases of IIH are rare, but stories like Lauren’s show the importance of not neglecting problems with your health.

“I encourage people to think about an eye test as part of their health check-up every few years and of course to make an appointment with their optician earlier if they have eyesight problems.”

* For more information or to make an appointment, call Specsavers on 0121 354 4143 or visit https://www.specsavers.co.uk/stores/

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