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Poppers made me lose my vision

A condition called Poppers Maculopathy is a very real danger

  • Words: Anonymous | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 25 May 2016

The killer headache and bleary eyes were expected after a heavy night. But 30 minutes later, when my vision was still bad, I knew something was wrong. I had a fixed red spot in the centre of my vision, about the width of a penny held at arm’s length. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you think about how sight works, you realise it’s a problem. If I looked away from something I could make it out. But when I looked directly at it, it disappeared in the red fuzz.

Leaving the house, I couldn’t read the number on the front of a bus until it was 30 metres away and, beyond a few feet, I couldn’t make out the expressions on people’s faces. You know when you look at the Sun, and the outline is burned into your vision for a few minutes? It was like that. Though it wouldn’t go away.

I headed down to Moorfields Eye Hospital, which has a specialist A&E department that’s open 24/7. The junior doctor examined by eyes, tested my vision and asked me a series of questions:

“Have you had any head injuries?”

“No.”

“Have you taken any illegal drugs?”

“No.”

He tapped his chin thoughtfully and told me he was going to ask his consultant something. When he came back in he looked much more convinced.

“Have you taken any poppers?” he asked.

I nodded slowly, surprised at his insight. The night before, I’d got drunk with a mate and had a few sniffs of “poppers.” They’re a liquid sold as “room aroma” in small bottles, but when sniffed they give a short-lived head-rush and high. They’re legal, and the only side-effect I’d heard about was the intense headache I’d woken up with.

 
 
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