World Glaucoma Week reminds people that they should protect their vision against this ‘invisible’ eye disease with a comprehensive eye check. Glaucoma is a major cause of eyesight loss in Australia, and the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. About 300,000 Australians have Glaucoma but, because there are generally no noticeable symptoms, only about 50% of people know that they have the disease. It can occur at any age, but generally it is more common in people over 40, and one in eight people over 80 develop Glaucoma.
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases affecting the optic nerve, at the back of the eye, where the nerve fibres are progressively destroyed. The vision loss starts with the peripheral or side vision, and is often so gradual that it goes undetected until the disease is quite advanced. In many cases this damage is related to increased pressure inside the eye. Sometimes the damage may be caused by poor blood circulation to the optic nerve, or a weakness in the integrity of the nerve fibres themselves. Often there are no warning signs, so in the early stages the person is unaware of the disease until permanent damage occurs.
Although anyone can get Glaucoma, some people are at higher risk, such as those with a history of diabetes, blood pressure, migraine, and short sightedness (myopia). People with a family history of glaucoma are up to 10 times more likely to also develop it themselves. Eye injuries and past or present use of cortisone medications (steroids) may also increase the risk of Glaucoma.
Comprehensive eye examinations are the best way to detect Glaucoma. Testing for Glaucoma usually includes thorough examination of the optic nerves by ophthalmoscopy, an eye pressure check (tonometry), and a visual field assessment if disease is suspected. Early detection is vital.
There is no cure for Glaucoma, and the vision loss is irreversible, however in most cases, if detected early, it can be controlled and further loss of sight either prevented or minimised. Treatment often requires eyedrops to reduce eye pressure, but sometimes surgery is also needed. If you are concerned about Glaucoma, feel free to contact us.