Over 300,000 Australians are Living with Glaucoma!

More than 1 in 8 of these people who over 80. Interestingly, half of these people will remain unaware they have the condition until it’s too late, which is why the condition is known as ‘The Silent Thief of Sight’.

This World Glaucoma Week (11th – 17th March), help spread the word about glaucoma. We need to decrease the number of Australians who will suffer preventable and irreversible blindness.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve over time. This damage is most often caused by an intraocular pressure (IOP) that is too high for the eye. This damage can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness if untreated.

The most common type of glaucoma is ‘Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma’ (POAG). This makes up a staggering 9 out of 10 cases in Australia. As with many other diseases, there are no symptoms or warning signs in the early stages. However early intervention and treatment are critical in avoiding permanent vision loss.

In POAG, a clear fluid known as the ‘aqueous humor’ – which carries oxygen and nutrients to the structures in the front part of the eye –  passes too slowly through the meshwork drain located in the angle of the anterior chamber. The resulting build-up of the fluid increases the pressure inside the eye to a point where it causes damage to the optic nerve.

Why is Intra-ocular Pressure (IOP) Important?

IOP fluctuates every day with the circadian rhythm, as well as the level of hydration, caffeine intake, amount of physical activity just before it’s measured, and the method used to test it. This is why you may notice different readings each time it is checked.

When it comes to the actual level of pressure the eye can tolerate before damage occurs, every eye is different.  In fact, 50% of people with glaucoma have a pressure reading within normal limits, which means a diagnosis can’t be based on a pressure reading alone. Other glaucoma assessment methods include the appearance of the optic nerve, family history, and formal testing of vision and visual field.

How Does the Loss of Vision Occur?

In untreated glaucoma cases, the optic nerve will become damaged in such a way that the peripheral visual field (e.g. your outside vision) is affected first. Central vision (the clearest vision you use when reading or looking at a face or street sign) often appears normal or unaffected until late in the disease.

Peripheral vision tests are helpful in identifying early-stage vision damage. Testing peripheral vision needs special equipment called ‘computerised perimetry’. It takes a quick 5-10 minutes per eye and involves clicking a button when you see a light stimulus.

What are the Treatment Methods?

Generally, treatment for glaucoma involves lowering IOP to a range where no further damage to the optic nerve occurs. This can be achieved with topical eye drops and, in some patients, a type of laser procedure. Occasionally surgery may be required to control the IOP, and this is best discussed with your ophthalmologist.

Risk Factors for Glaucoma:

Studies have shown that the risk of glaucoma increases 10-fold in families, with immediate family members having a 25-50% chance of developing the condition. In addition to genetics, there are several other risk factors for glaucoma, including:

  • Age
  • Thin cornea
  • High myopia
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Previous eye trauma
  • Use of corticosteroids.

Living with Glaucoma

For those who have been diagnosed, the good news is there are things you can do to reduce further damage and retain your eyesight long term. Check out our top tips for living with glaucoma.

1. Explore your treatment options

Ask your eye health professional what options are available to you based on your diagnosis. The most common treatments include eye drops, laser, and conventional surgery.

2. Don’t forget your medication!

Because glaucoma is a ‘silent disease’ people find it challenging to remember to take their eye drops. Put your glaucoma medication in a place you’ll remember and set a reminder on your phone if it helps.

3. Return for your scheduled eye checks with a specialist

A regular eye check is the only way a specialist will be able to detect if your glaucoma is stable, or if the damage is increasing. An eye check will include an eye examination, testing of the visual field, and other scans like OCT of the optic nerve.

4. Eat a healthy diet

You should always have a healthy diet. Foods particularly high in antioxidants and nutrients, however, are essential to maintaining eye health.

5. Exercise regularly

Getting that blood pumping regularly will ensure blood flow to your optic nerves and reduce eye pressure. Be careful in sports like swimming, weight lifting, and yoga, in particular inverted postures, as these activities can inadvertently impact eye pressure.

6. Avoid smoking

Smoking increases blood pressure and eye inflammation – two things you don’t want if you have glaucoma.

7. Encourage your family to get their eyes checked

If you have glaucoma, then your immediate family members will have as much as a 25-50% increased risk of developing it too. Share this article and encourage your family to get regular eye health checks.

Find out more about Living with Glaucoma

If you’d like to speak to someone about living with glaucoma treatments or book a consultation, contact KindSIGHT on 07 3063 1600.