What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a hereditary eye condition and a leading cause of blindness worldwide. It is commonly referred to as the 'silent thief of sight', due to it's gradual progression and subtle changes to our vision. If you have a family member who suffered from Glaucoma, it is important you have regular eye exams to monitor for Glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

There are different types of glaucoma. Regardless of the type, glaucoma is a condition whereby the optic nerve in the eye is gradually damaged, eventually causing vision loss. The optic nerve transfers the visual information from your eyes to the vision centres of your brain via electrical impulses.

Various changes can affect the optic nerve, including trauma or eye surgery- however in most cases it is affected by a build-up of pressure within the eye.

Am I Likely to get Glaucoma?

Estimates indicate that as many as half of all Australian glaucoma sufferers (or a whopping 150,000 people) are unaware they have glaucoma.

Anyone can develop glaucoma, however risk factors include:

  • A family history of glaucoma

  • Over 40 years of age

  • People with diabetes or migraine sufferers

  • People on steroid medication

  • History of eye surgery or trauma

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma progresses slowly and causes a loss of vision from the outside in. Our eyes are able to independently compensate for one another, meaning that people can be completely unaware they have Glaucoma or that their vision is deteriorating. As such, Glaucoma is often not detected until the later stages, where a significant amount of vision may have been lost and cannot be restored.

Unlike Macular Degeneration, self-monitoring for Glaucoma is not possible. Signs and symptoms progress are so gradual, it can be very difficult to tell whether you are experiencing vision loss. This is why it is so important to have regular eye examinations, where your optometrist will measure the pressure within the eye as well as monitor the health of the eye and optic nerve, and conduct further testing if needed.

The earlier glaucoma is detected, the more likely further vision loss will be prevented. The image below shows how Glaucoma can affect your vision. In the image to the left, significant vision loss has occurred and caused dark patches, loss of detail and clarity. The Image on the right is how someone with normal vision would see.

Can Glaucoma be Treated or Prevented?

At this stage, glaucoma cannot be cured and once vision has been lost, it cannot be restored. Glaucoma can however be effectively controlled to minimise its progression. Treatment involves the life-long use of eye drops, while surgery and laser treatment may be used in some circumstances. Newer treatments are currently also being trialled.

If eye drops are prescribed by your ophthalmologist for Glaucoma, it is crucial you adhere to the instructions given on how and when to use the drops for the treatment to be effective. Remember, prevention is the best treatment!

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