The simple test that could prevent permanent blindness
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Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. And heartbreakingly, so many cases are preventable.
Glaucoma develops slowly over the years, often without any noticeable symptoms. It describes the build-up of pressure inside the eye that pushes against the optic nerve, causing permanent damage over time.
There is no cure, and any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be reversed. But a simple, regular eye examination can make an incredible difference. Early diagnosis can help prevent any additional damage, with eye drops, medication or surgery able to control the pressure.
The risk grows greater with age. At 60, your chances of developing glaucoma will be 4 to 10 times higher than at age 40. If you have a family history of glaucoma, this risk is increased tenfold.
A new campaign called Glaucoma Aware is on a mission to unearth 150,000 Australians who face preventable blindness and don’t know it. As per the campaign’s recent survey results, around 60% of Australians either haven’t been tested or don’t know if they’ve been tested for glaucoma.
One in two family members of Australians with advanced glaucoma are likely to show early signs of the disease.
Sue, 58, a Melbourne optometrist, knows this sadly all too well, with three out of four generations of her family affected.
Sue’s grandmother, Nellie, was diagnosed late in life. “She was put on topical eye-drop medications, but unfortunately her glaucoma was already well established,” she says.
“Her glaucoma proved very difficult to control… she was virtually blind by the time that she died, aged 95 in a nursing home.”
Sue’s mother, Ellen, also got her eyes examined. “Fortunately, she was diagnosed at a very early stage. she’s been on topical eyedrops these last 30 odd years, and fortunately she’s had good vision.”
“At 84 she takes no other medications and leads a very active lifestyle, including driving confidently.”
Sue, keenly aware of her higher risk, gets an examination every year.
But Sue was taken by surprise when her son Daniel, also studying optometry, called with some startling news.
“In the final week of his course, Daniel rang us and said the students had been checking each other’s intra-ocular pressures in preparation for their final practical examination, and his had been found to be unusually high.”
At just 28 (“an age where everybody thinks they’re bulletproof”), Daniel was diagnosed with pigment dispersion syndrome – an aggressive condition that can lead to glaucoma if it’s not treated at an early age.
Thankfully, at the time of diagnosis, Daniel showed no visual loss. He now receives regular care, and his pressures are now controlled with eye drops.
The family is optimistic he can continue life with his vision unaffected, and that in time, the pressure will subside.
Nonetheless, it was a startling wake-up call: glaucoma can affect anyone at any age. Even infants can develop the disease.
“We routinely tell our patients that it should be checked every two years from the age of 40, or earlier if you have a family history,” says Sue. “But it certainly brought the message home to us: even at a younger age, this is something that can increase without having any awareness.”
Sue believes this is particularly important for Australia’s over-60s. “The incidence of glaucoma increase dramatically through the decades.”
“A lot of people self-diagnose as they get older. If they have trouble with their eyesight, they assume that it’s just because they’re getting older.”
“I think the lesson is that regular check-ups are important for everybody.”
Don’t miss out on life’s most precious moments. Consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist and learn more on Glaucoma Aware.