Eye diseases like cataracts, trachoma and diabetic retinopathy are concerning for Australians. Over 55% of us suffer from one or more long-term eye conditions, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2017/2019).
Glaucoma is one of them involving damage to the optic nerve. It can lead to blindness.
Glaucoma, in its early stages, has no warning signs or symptoms and vision loss is gradual. Thus, a considerable amount of vision can be lost before the individual is made aware of the problem.
According to Glaucoma Australia, 300,000 Australians have glaucoma; 50 percent of which are undiagnosed. First degree relatives of people with glaucoma have an almost one in four chance of developing glaucoma in their own lifetime. In addition to this, one in eight Australians over 80 will develop glaucoma and approximately one in 10,000 babies born in the country has glaucoma.
Given its severity, it is important to understand the eye disease, the risks associated with it, and measures taken for glaucoma prevention.
The optic nerve
Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve. But, what does the optic nerve do?
When light comes through the cornea and pupil, it is focused by the lens and falls into the retina. This goes to the brain via the optic nerve. If there is damage to the optic nerve, the image captured by the eye cannot properly reach the brain.
People who have increased pressure in the eye may experience damage to their optic nerve, which could be one of the causes of glaucoma.
Types of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a term used for a group of medical conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve and there are several types of glaucoma.
Primary types of glaucoma are primary open-angle glaucoma and acute angle-closure. Others include normal tension glaucoma, childhood glaucoma, and glaucoma in older children.
Secondary glaucoma can develop as a result of other eye disorders and includes pigment-dispersion syndrome, pseudo exfoliation syndrome, neovascular glaucoma, mixed mechanism glaucoma, traumatic glaucoma, iridocorneal endothelial syndrome, and steroid-induced glaucoma.
There are also a few conditions associated with glaucoma, for instance, Sturge-Weber syndrome, Charles Bonnet syndrome, and developmental glaucoma. While the type of glaucoma may determine the severity of it and the rate of progression, blindness is the main risk of all types of glaucoma, which is why early detection is vital.
Who is at Risk?
The risk of developing Glaucoma increases with some or all of the below risk factors
High eye pressure,
Age, over 50 years
Short or long sightedness
Prolonged steroid medication
Exposure eye surgery or eye injury
History with high or low blood pressure.
In addition to this, people with diabetes are also at risk of developing glaucoma. According to the Vision Eye Institute Australia, the risk of glaucoma in people with diabetes is significantly higher than that of the general population. This is one of the main reasons a GP will take measures to control a person’s diabetes and recommend regular eye tests.
Triggers and Symptoms
Often, there is a lack of glaucoma prevention measures taken by people because the condition goes undetected due to a lack of noticeable symptoms and warning signs during the early stages.
As early symptoms are often unnoticeable, patients sometimes miss-out being on a treatment plan. This is why it is important to get regular eye tests, especially if you are at greater risk of developing the condition.
Some of the symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma are hazy or blurred vision, seeing halos or rainbow-colored circles around bright lights, redness in the eye, sudden vision loss, nausea and vomiting, and eye pain.
If you notice any of these symptoms, visit your GP immediately and get screened.
There is no proven cure for glaucoma.
The good news is that treatment can control, and delay further vision loss. Options include but are not limited to oral medications, eye drops, laser surgery or other invasive and non-invasive surgeries.
How Can A GP Help?
Considering the impact of blindness in the quality of living, early detection is important. Your GP will help understand the symptoms and commence diagnosis.
Your GP may start by conducting regular eye tests and screening. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist or eye specialist if further tests are required.