Glaucoma

Don’t think that just because you are young and have perfect 20/20 vision that you can’t contract (or even already have) glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an insidious disease that damages the optic nerve, so much so that if left untreated it leads to blindness – the good news is that it is largely preventable and can be treated using well proven techniques involving drugs and surgery. It’s not unusual for patients suffering from glaucoma to lead full and productive lives.

 

The figures are alarming:

  • 50% of those people who have glaucoma don’t know they have it;
  • 90% of those people who became blind because of glaucoma could have been prevented from becoming blind through treatment.

Who is susceptible to contracting glaucoma?

Whether someone contracts glaucoma or not depends on WHO THEY ARE and WHO THEIR PARENTS WERE.

Skin colour (if a person is black or asian) and being diabetic, together with hereditary factors such as a family history of diabetes and glaucoma itself, point to a person being at risk.

Now don’t think you can get off lightly by blaming your well-meaning parents for your situation, since there are things that you can do to improve your chances of escaping the disease – notably maintaining a normal blood pressure and paying attention to those good old favourites nutrition and exercise!

And – if you are a smoker – STOP!

Getting checked out

Glaucoma affects peripheral vision first, which leads people to think that maybe they can self test – not so.  Even covering one eye and looking ahead with the other while assessing how much can be seen to the side doesn’t really match up to a proper Field of Vision Test, and anyway there are additional tests that yield more information for a full diagnosis.

The easiest way to get checked out is to have an eye test (even if you are sure you don’t need glasses) carried out by an Optometrist – the cost of this is bulk billed in Australia, so why not make the appointment – soon!

As well as testing for effective vision for distance, reading and computer work, the optometrist will examine the eye for various defects and diseases including glaucoma.

There is a strong correlation between the risk and presence of glaucoma in an eye and the IntraOcular Pressure – usually referred to as IOP. To measure it a “puff of air” test is used to gauge the eye pressure. The test doesn’t hurt, although it’s always a surprise when it happens as it is always unexpected (and has to be repeated if you are blinking of course).

Courses of Treatment

Treatment, or management, of glaucoma may be through one or more of:

  • Medication – eye drops are used to reduce the intraocular pressure. This works when the patient is disciplined in following the regime, but falls down when it is not followed, particularly so when patients don’t even bother to obtain their prescriptions at all!
  • Laser Eye Surgery – may be the first step in treatment or following a course of medication that has not proved effective, or has decreased in effectiveness through time.  The use of laser surgery is growing both due to precision and infection factors, and basically improves an eye’s drainage system;
  • Traditional Surgery – used when the above two treatments are not effective.  A hinged flap is made in the eye to assist the required drainage.

The outcome

Glaucoma cannot be cured, but CAN be treated and managed.

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