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What is Glaucoma?

17 March 2020

What is Glaucoma

World Glaucoma Week aims to spread global awareness of glaucoma to help prevent irreversible vision loss caused by the disease. In light of World Glaucoma Week this week, we have developed a comprehensive post about glaucoma symptoms, treatment and causes.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, caused by increased fluid pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma usually has no early warning signs and can only be detected through routine eye examinations. If left untreated or if the patient doesn’t follow the recommended treatment plan, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure available for glaucoma and the effects cannot be reversed. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to regularly have your eyes tested. Early detection of glaucoma is crucial to starting treatment early and preventing further vision loss.

Glaucoma Statistics

Glaucoma is a very common disease and can have serious impacts on the day-to-day lives of people suffering from it. In Australia:

  • Approximately 300,000 people have glaucoma
  • 2 in 100 people will develop glaucoma in their lifetime
  • 1 in 8 people aged over 80 years will develop glaucoma
  • Immediate family members of people with glaucoma are up to 10 times more likely to develop glaucoma
  • Currently about 50% of people with glaucoma remain undiagnosed
  • Approximately half of patients don’t take their glaucoma medication as prescribed

Types of Glaucoma

There are many different types of glaucoma. The two most common are open-angle glaucoma and acute-angle closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma, also known as primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is where the angle between the iris and cornea is as wide and open as it should be, but the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, increasing internal eye pressure and damaging the optic nerve. POAG accounts for 90% of glaucoma causes in Australia.

Acute-angle closure glaucoma, also known as acute closure glaucoma or narrow angle glaucoma, is where the angle between the iris and cornea is closed in many or most areas. This results in increased eye pressure, optic nerve damage and possible vision loss.

Glaucoma Symptoms

POAG doesn’t have any early warning signs.It develops slowly and may not have any symptoms for many years, affecting only peripheral vision. By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced and vision loss is not reversible. Because symptoms of open-angle glaucoma can go undetected for many years, it is important to have regular eye checks to test for glaucoma.

On the other hand, acute-angle closure glaucoma has very noticeable symptoms including blurred vision, appearance of rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights, severe eye and head pain, nausea and sudden sight loss. If you notice any of these symptoms, visit an ophthalmologist immediately.

Diagnosis of Glaucoma

Because most patients suffering from Glaucoma do not experience any symptoms, glaucoma cannot be self-diagnosed. In fact, most cases of glaucoma go undetected for many years. Glaucoma is usually detected through routine eye examinations, so it is important to regularly get your vision checked, particularly as you get older.

At EyeSpecialists, we diagnose glaucoma by checking eye pressure, performing visual field tests to identify missing vision and measure the optical nerve and corneal thickness using state-of-the-art technology. We use optical coherence tomography (OCT) to closely monitor and assess your glaucoma.

Early detection of glaucoma means that treatment can be started before any major vision loss occurs. If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, there are treatment options that can slow the worsening of vision. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness.

Glaucoma Treatment

Most people with glaucoma can successfully manage their condition with eye drops. Medicated eye drops reduce the intraocular pressure in the eye. Since glaucoma often has no symptoms, people may be reluctant to follow treatment plans or may forget to take their eye drops. If not taken as prescribed, the eye drops will not be effective and vision loss could increase, as glaucoma is a life-long, often progressive condition.

Some cases of glaucoma may be treated with laser surgery. There are different types of laser surgeries available to treat open-angle and acute-angle glaucoma. EyeSpecialists can conduct Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty on the same day as your diagnosis, saving you an extra trip to the clinic. This procedure uses short pulses of low-energy light to improve drainage and reduce eye pressure.

Some cases of glaucoma may require surgery. Your ophthalmologist will be able to discuss the appropriate treatment plan for your glaucoma.

Glaucoma Causes

Glaucoma is caused by an increase in pressure inside the eye, leading to optic nerve damage and vision loss.

We don’t know why this occurs. While glaucoma is more common in people over 60, it can occur at any age. However, there are some factors that can put you at higher risk of developing the disease, including:

  • Being over the age of 60
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Ethnicity
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes

The most common type of glaucoma is hereditary. If your immediate family members have glaucoma, it is important that you get regular checkups to test for glaucoma.

Conclusion

Glaucoma is a lifelong, often progressive eye condition that can lead to permanent vision loss. There is no known cure, but there are treatments available that can prevent worsening vision. Earlier detection and treatment of glaucoma is crucial for successful management of the disease. Regular eye examinations are key to early detection.EyeSpecialists uses state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and treat glaucoma. Read more about glaucoma or book an appointment today!

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RANZCO - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists - The Leaders in Collaborative Eye Care
ANZSRS - Australian and New Zealand Society of Retinal Specialists
ASO - Australian Society of Ophthalmologists
ASRS - American Society of Retina Specialists

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