Glaucoma: the sneaky blindness
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in the elderly, which is often not recognised until after it's progressive eye damage is well under way.
While around 10 per cent of 80-85 year-olds suffer from glaucoma with the number growing exponentially as the population ages, it is less known that around three per cent of the population over 40 also suffer.
Of concern is that up to 50 per cent of sufferers remain undiagnosed as it remains asymptomatic until the damage is too far gone to treat effectively.
People with a family history of glaucoma are ten times more likely to develop the disease, as are diabetics and short sighted people.
In the lead up to World Glaucoma Week (Sunday 6-Saturday 12 March), one of Australia’s leading glaucoma experts Dr Andrew White from PersonalEYES, is urging all people over the age of 45 to go for bi-annual check ups, as an early diagnosis can prevent long-term damage, and be treated if detected early enough.
If glaucoma runs in the family, Dr Andrew White recommends people begin bi-annual testing in their 30s.
Glaucoma places pressure on the eye destroys peripheral vision, causing blindness and making patients more susceptible to falls, which can be life threatening in patients who are elderly.
Prevention of glaucoma
With Australia’s aging population, one of the big issues for the management of glaucoma in the foreseeable future is how to ensure that patients at the highest risk of going blind from glaucoma are seen early and treated appropriately.
At the moment, the only way to prevent glaucoma is through early detection, with prompt treatment protecting the patient from irreversible blindness.
Most people are unaware they can request a glaucoma test with their standard eye test at the optometrist and few optometrists offer it as standard.
The good news is that early detection can mean prevention of the disease progressing.
Currently there is no cure for glaucoma but it can usually be controlled so that further damage is slowed or halted.
Management of the problem often involves a life-long commitment to treatment and regular check-ups by your eye specialist.
There are also a range of treatment options available to control glaucoma, which include:
Eye drops – The most common form of treatment
SLT (Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty) – A relatively minor procedure in which some of the blockages to the drainage canals are opened
Surgery – Creation of a new path for the fluid to drain out of the eye, iStent
Newer diagnostic and management tools involve artificial intelligence technology to potentially improve accuracy and reduce the burden of resources required to diagnose and monitor glaucoma patients.
It is hoped that this will address a major challenge in glaucoma care, which is the poor treatment drug-regimen adherence by patients, often resulting from the difficulty of using eye drops.
A new advancement in treatment options available in glaucoma therapy that is safe and an effective way to improve the eye’s natural fluid outflow is iStent.
This a micro invasive glaucoma surgery that spares important eye tissue that is often damaged by traditional surgeries. iStent can eliminate or reduce the need for glaucoma drops and is currently being used at PersonalEYES clinics in Australia.
Glaucoma Australia’s B.I.G. (Beat Invisible Glaucoma) Breakfast
As World Glaucoma Week approaches on Sunday 6 March, Glaucoma Australia invites Australians to have a B.I.G. Breakfast with their families.
It is the ideal time to have the conversation with family members, friends or workmates about having a comprehensive and regular eye test, including a check of the optic nerves.
You can register to hold a B.I.G. Breakfast through Glaucoma Australia with funds raised being used to increase glaucoma awareness.
4 March 2016.