Glaucoma-the-facts

Glaucoma is an eye disease where the optic nerve at the back of the eye is slowly and permanently damaged The greatest risk factor is raised pressure inside the eye, although, in some cases people may have normal eye pressure and still have glaucoma.  Vision loss from glaucoma tends to be slow and start from the peripheral field of vision.  Like hearing loss, it may not be noticed until it is in late stages Damage caused by glaucoma is irreversible but the condition is treatable.  Ideally glaucoma is diagnosed in its early stages where the most common way to treat glaucoma is by using medications to lower the eye pressure.

Glaucoma remains the leading cause of avoidable blindness worldwide.  Current estimates suggest that over 300,000 Australians are affected and that 50% of those living with glaucoma are undiagnosed. 

While nine out of ten Australians say that sight is their most valued sense, over eight million Australians do not have regular eye tests. 

Simple Facts about Glaucoma: 

  • Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Australia 
  • It is often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’ as glaucoma develops slowly and typically without any symptoms.  The risk is that glaucoma is often undetected until the disease reaches an advanced stage.  Left untreated, glaucoma can cause severe vision loss and lead to blindness. 
  • Vision loss can’t be restored, so early diagnosis and treatment it critically important to delay or halt the progression of the disease.  
  • It is estimated that there are 300,000 Australians living with glaucoma, but over 50% are unaware they have it, thinking they have healthy eyes. 
  • Glaucoma is hereditary disease.  Relatives of a family member with glaucoma are up to ten times more likely to develop glaucoma themselves. 
  • The risk increases to approximately one in four for first degree relatives of a glaucoma sufferer 

Anyone may develop glaucoma, however, 

some people have a higher risk.  

Risk factors include people who: 

Risk Factors:

  • Have a family history of glaucoma 
  • Have high eye pressure 
  • Are aged over 50, the risk increases with every decade of life over age 40 
  • Are of African or Asian descent 
  • Have diabetes 
  • Have myopia (nearsighted) 
  • Have been on a prolonged course of steroid medications 
  • Experience migraines 
  • Have had an eye operation or eye injury 
  • Who have a history or high or low blood pressure 

Abridged: NHMRC Guidelines, 2010 

An eye examination is a completely painless process and on average takes only thirty minutes of your time. 

As part of a routine eye examination a thorough check of the health of the eye is conducted.  This includes examining the optic nerve for features that are suggestive of glaucoma.  The pressure of the eye is also checked and is a painless test.  In cases where glaucoma is suspected more advanced tests are conducted.  These tests included a computerised check for any loss of peripheral vision and a highly accurate ultrasound like test called an OCT (link).  An OCT can scan the optic nerve for signs of nerve damage and can also measure the anatomy of the front of the eye where the ocular fluid pressure is regulated, or drains from the eye. 

Glaucoma Australia recommends all Australians fifty years or older visit an optometrist every two years for a comprehensive eye exam and more frequently if you have any of the risk factors notes above.  It is also recommended to alert first-degree relatives of glaucoma patients to have regular eye checks. 

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