Keep your eye sight sharp with this latest information on glaucoma

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. We shed some light on this serious health issue. Here’s what you need to know.

Did you know? 50% of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed. 

Studies show that many of us are not regularly getting eye tests, which unfortunately has the potential to lead to degenerative eye health. So why is eye health so important?

Glaucoma, a series of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve at the back of the eye, is the leading cause of irreversible blindness on the globe. Easily detected by an eye test, glaucoma can be treated and its rate of progress can at least be slowed in many cases.

Did you know? One in eight Australians over 80 will develop glaucoma.
In Australia glaucoma is a major public health issue. More than 300,000 Australians of all ages suffer from glaucoma and some studies have even suggested that the disease will affect around 2% of the total population at some point in their lives. The disease disproportionately affects older people, with one in eight Australians over the age of 80 eventually developing the life-altering disease. Yet alarmingly, the rate of diagnosis is remarkably low, with as many as 50% of sufferers going undiagnosed.

So, what exactly is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the common name given to a series of diseases that attack the optic nerve at the rear of the human eye. An intricate and complex biological system, the eye relies on the movement of light through the cornea and pupil. After focusing on this light, the image moves from the retina to the brain. Thanks to the optic nerve, the brain can receive the image, interpret it and experience sight. But when glaucoma strikes, it impacts on this highly complex interaction.

There are many suggested causes of glaucoma including increased pressure inside the eye, a blockage in circulation, or the inadequate blood supply to the optic nerves which can slowly weaken the nerve fibres responsible for transmitting images to the brain. Eventually, the deterioration is so significant that the field of sight in those who suffer from glaucoma is almost entirely diminished. 

Did you know? The health care cost in Australian for glaucoma is estimated to be more than $342 million (and rising). 

The symptoms
The most statistically prevalent form of the disease is chronic (primary open-angle) glaucoma. Affecting the majority of diagnosed glaucoma sufferers, this iteration of the disease has no identifiable symptoms and often results in the loss of eyesight after diagnosis. 

Over a long and slow timescale, glaucoma slowly degrades vision. Beginning with peripheral (or side) vision, the disease irreversibly weakens the optic nerve. However, as the human body adapts, one eye compensates for the other's loss; this process often results in a seemingly unaffected field of vision. By detecting the disease early on, treatment and medical options can slow the rate of damage and potentially avert imminent blindness. 

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Did you know? First degree relatives of glaucoma patients have an ten-fold increased risk of developing the disease.

Risk factors
Unfortunately, age is a contributing factor when it comes to glaucoma. Although younger sufferers have also been diagnosed, leading researchers to examine the concept that glaucoma could be an inherited or genetic condition. Today, doctors and specialists recognise that glaucoma is an inherited condition, with the disease passed on between multiple generations of a single family. If a close family member (parents, siblings or children) develops the disease, studies suggest that other family members are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma. Those with genetic predispositions to glaucoma should notify family members and follow up on the recommended testing every two years. 

Other physical conditions can also increase your risk of developing glaucoma. These include: diabetes, frequent migraines, short-sightedness, long-sightedness, serious eye injuries, high blood pressure and the use of cortisone drugs (steroids). 

Did you know? Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. 

Detection and treatment
An eye examination is the simplest and most effective way of heading off the progress of this disease. Glaucoma tests can include an optic nerve check, an eye pressure check or a visual field assessment. For more information about eye testing, speak to your GP or a healthcare professional. The relatively painless suite of tests will prevent damage and even allay the need for more drastic measures.

The treatment of glaucoma has advanced in recent years, with medical eye-drops being prescribed most commonly. Laser trabeculoplasty is often recommended for those with significant loss of vision, while surgery is often used a last resort, where a new channel for eye fluid is surgically created within the eye. Either way, these invasive processes cannot completely restore sight. However, they do slow the rate of progress. 

Specsavers new Eye Health Report, released in support of World Glaucoma Week this week (6-12 March), has revealed that 68% of Gen X (36-51 year olds) are likely to put off having an eye test, putting them at risk of missing the early signs of diseases such as Glaucoma. 

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and has few symptoms until the disease has reached an advance stage and blindness cannot be reversed. With 56% of Australian’s likely to put off an eye test, Specsavers is working with Glaucoma Australia to encourage Australian’s to make their eye health a priority this World Glaucoma Week, and book an eye test at their local Specsavers store.   

The good news is a simple eye test could really help you.

GP Dr Caroline West speaks on behalf of Glaucoma Australia

Want to find out more? Visit Glaucoma Australia for more information.

Have you or someone you have had any personal experience with glaucoma? Join the conversation below…