Protect your vision: Understanding glaucoma and what over 60s must know

Mar 15, 2023
It’s important to take measures to protect your vision. Source: Getty Images.

As studies indicate that the number of Australians aged 65 and above is projected to reach 6.66 million by 2041, a rise of 54 per cent from the 2021 population, optometrists are bracing themselves for a surge in the number of individuals affected by severe eye conditions, including Glaucoma.

As the primary cause of blindness globally, Glaucoma poses a significant threat to the eyesight of around 300,000 Australians, particularly those aged 50 and above. Alarming statistics indicate that 50 per cent of Australians are oblivious that they are afflicted with the condition as they have not undergone an eye examination.

For this reason, it’s important to take measures to protect your vision.

The importance of protecting your vision and being aware of the signs of glaucoma comes to the fore during World Glaucoma Week, March 12 – 18, a worldwide initiative that works to raise awareness regarding the disease.

What is glaucoma?

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.”

Risk factors for glaucoma

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
• Migraines
• An eye operation or eye injury.

Given age is a major risk factor, Bupa Optical Optometrist, Karen Makin says it’s important older Australians are vigilant about getting regular eye tests to ensure any issues are detected and treated early.

“There is no doubt an ageing population increases the national incidence of eye diseases, especially Glaucoma. That’s why it’s vital that awareness of the importance of eye tests is championed at government, medical provider, and family levels alike,” Makin explains.

“We strongly encourage everyone, but particularly men and women over 50 years of age to visit an optometrist every 2 years for an eye test… it’s just a short consultation, but it could be the first
step in saving your eyesight.”

How to prevent glaucoma

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 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.

Makin spoke further regarding the series of tests an optometrist does, as part of a standard eye test, to check for Glaucoma. These include examining the optic nerve and retina to pick up any early signs of the
disease and measuring eye pressure.

“If there are any suspicious results, then your optometrist will discuss the options available which
may include referral to an eye specialist,” Makin says.

Treatment options for glaucoma

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.

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.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up