Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. An estimated 300,000 Australians are currently living with the disease.
There are often no early symptoms, which is why half of people living with glaucoma don’t even know they have it. For this reason, it’s important to take measures to protect your vision.
Glaucoma, a condition that damages your eye’s optic nerve, is one of the most common eye issues over-60s face. No one knows the main cause of glaucoma, however it’s often linked to a build up of pressure inside your eye, according to Peter Murphy, the director of eye care and community at OPSM.
There are four main types of glaucoma: primary open angle glaucoma (when the drainage channels in the eye become blocked over time), acute angle closure glaucoma (where the drainage of the eye becomes blocked and raises eye pressure quickly), secondary glaucoma (caused by other eye conditions) and congenital glaucoma (glaucoma that develops in childhood).
Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma, Murphy says. It typically causes changes to the peripheral vision first. “Glaucoma results in a slow painless loss of small areas in your side vision,” he says.
“These blind spots slowly enlarge to eliminate your peripheral vision, so often people don’t notice a deterioration until the disease has taken hold. The end result is tunnel vision which is like looking through a keyhole.”
Anyone can get glaucoma, but certain people are more at risk, including those with a family history of the disease, people over the age of 50, people from Asian or African backgrounds, those with irregular blood pressure or diabetes and even people who are short-sighted.
Other risk factors that may increase your chances of developing glaucoma include:
• High eye pressure
• Certain medications, including corticosteroids
• An eye operation or eye injury.
There are many steps you can take to help protect your eyes and lower your glaucoma risk. Murphy says it’s best to visit an optometrist at least once every two years, where they will perform a number of tests as part of a regular check-up, including glaucoma checks. If you’re 65 and over, you’re eligible for a buck-billed eye test every year through Medicare.
“If it’s detected early it can be treated and managed appropriately,” Murphy says. “If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible vision loss.”
Eye injuries can lead to secondary glaucoma, so protecting your eyes from injury is also super important. Always wear protective eyewear during sports or while working in your yard. Murphy also recommends checking your family history for glaucoma as the risk increases significantly — one in four may develop glaucoma in their lifetime.
Sadly, there’s no cure for glaucoma and damage caused can’t be reversed. But if glaucoma is detected early enough, treatment can slow or stop further vision loss.
For many people, eye drops will be prescribed by a glaucoma specialist to regulate the pressure within the eye, which should delay the nerves becoming damaged. However, if the drops don’t help the pressure, there are additional treatments to assist including laser treatments to help regulate the pressure a little bit more, or surgery, which aims to do the same.
Some patients may be able to take advantage of new MIGS (minimally invasive glaucoma surgery) technology, which involves implanting a tiny stent-like device into the patient’s eye to treat glaucoma by lowering pressure. The good news is the Federal Government has finally given approval for Medicare rebates for people needing MIGS surgery to treat glaucoma.
The correct treatment for you will depend on the type of glaucoma you have. However, it’s important to know that treatments don’t reverse any existing damage, so early detection through regular eye check-ups is still important.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
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