Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Approximately 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, and it is thought that 1 in 2 Australians with glaucoma are undiagnosed.
There are several forms of glaucoma, but in all forms vision is lost as a result of damage to the optic nerve caused by a build up of pressure within the eye. If untreated, glaucoma initially causes peripheral vision loss and can progress to severe vision loss and even total blindness.
Glaucoma is often referred to as “The Sneak Thief of Sight”. This is because glaucoma generally takes away vision slowly, and as most people are symptom free in the early stages of the condition, they are usually completely unaware of the damage being caused.
Max Astri, from Max Astri Optometrists, utilises the latest diagnostic equipment during their comprehensive glaucoma examinations. He recommends comprehensive, dilated eye examinations for adults every two years. He says early detection, treatment and management of glaucoma is crucial to minimise vision loss.
“Early detection is important as vision loss from glaucoma is permanent. If detected, treatment can start immediately to slow the progression of the disease and help prevent further irreversible vision loss” he said.
A comprehensive eye examination generally includes an assessment of glaucoma risk factors, which may indicate if further specific tests are necessary to determine the presence of glaucoma.
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Glaucoma can occur in patients of any age, however the risk of developing glaucoma increases with age. While 1 in 50 Australians will develop glaucoma in their lifetime, 1 in 8 Australians over 80 years of age will develop glaucoma.
People with a first degree relative with glaucoma can be up to ten times more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include myopia, diabetes, migraines, abnormal blood pressure, sleep apnoea, previous ocular trauma and a history of steroid use. Recent studies have shown that smoking also increases the risk of developing glaucoma.
Some of the symptoms patients living with glaucoma may experience include having difficulty adjusting to lighting changes such as going from indoors to outdoors, seeing halos around lights, being particularly sensitive to glare and tripping over or bumping into objects.
According to optometrist Alek Sims, once diagnosed with glaucoma it is important that patients strictly adhere to their treatment plan.
“Glaucoma is most commonly treated with eye drops that are used daily to reduce the pressure in the eye. It is imperative that patients prescribed drops to control their eye pressure use them as instructed. This is crucial to minimising further vision loss,” he said.