Get familiar with Glaucoma
Learn about the leading cause of blindness
Glaucoma is a silent warrior. It progresses painlessly, potentially leading to total blindness if left untreated. It’s estimated that around 91,000 New Zealanders suffer from Glaucoma, but did you know that up to 50% of those people don’t even know they have the disease? Because this disease is so silent, education is paramount to know if you’re at risk.
I’ll explain common risks, shed some light on how you can best care for your eyes and share important options for glaucoma treatment.
What is Glaucoma?
‘Glaucoma’ is an umbrella term for eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. It refers to two separate diseases that act similarly and can cause the same result – blindness.
Both types of Glaucoma occur when fluid in the eye can’t drain properly, resulting in a build up of pressure. In turn this can cause harm to nerve fibres and ultimately, result in optic nerve damage.
The optic nerve is responsible for sending messages from the eye to our brain. Damage to the optic nerve results in progresive and permanent loss of peripheral vision.
1. Chronic Glaucoma
This type of Glaucoma is the most common, developing slowly and silently without any pain. This means that the blockage of your eye’s drainage channels happens gradually, and your peripheral vision will be affected first (usually in both eyes).
Developing Glaucoma can only be detected via examination by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist.
2. Acute Glaucoma
Acute Glaucoma is less common, but does cause pain. Symptoms will develop rapidly – usually with a fast build up of pressure in the eye that causes intense pain and sudden loss of vision. Sometimes, you can be affected by more severe symptoms like headaches and nausea.
Common risk factors
Chronic Glaucoma doesn’t present any symptoms, but untreated it will cause irreversible loss of vision. While warning signs are almost unnoticeable, it’s important to know the factors that put you at greater risk of developing either disease.
Genetics: Family history of Glaucoma is the key risk factor. Discuss health history with family, and if Glaucoma is present in anyone’s history – maintain eye checks regularly. A first degree relative with Glaucoma increases your risk of developing the condition by 5 times.
History of eye injury: Injury to the eye may cause secondary Glaucoma. This type of Glaucoma may occur immediately after the injury or many years later.
High Myopia: Studies suggest that being myopic increases your risk of Glaucoma.
Aging: Glaucoma is more common in adults over 40. In New Zealand, 1 in 50 people over the age of 40 are affected, and this rises to 5-10% over the age of 80.
Glaucoma treatment and management
While treatment for Glaucoma can’t restore lost vision, it can help prevent further progression.
If you’re suffering from Acute Glaucoma, treatment (with both medication and surgery) is required urgently so you’ll need to consult an Ophthalmologist as soon as possible. But ongoing chronic Glaucoma treatment is easily incorporated into your life, and early detection could save your vision.
1. If you’re over 40, have regular eye examinations
Early detection for chronic Glaucoma could save your eyesight. Have regular eye examinations every 2-3 years to detect Glaucoma as soon as possible.
If you’ve been diagnosed, your Ophthalmologist will be able to provide ongoing treatment options that will keep your eyes healthy.
2. Eye drops and medication
Eye drops may be initially prescribed to help treat your Glaucoma and lower the pressure in your eyes. It’s important to use them exactly as prescribed to prevent further optic nerve damage. Common eye drops include prostaglandins, beta blockers, and cholinergic agents. Sometimes you may also be prescribed oral medications.
3. Surgery might be needed
If medications aren’t working, surgery may be another option to manage your Glaucoma. There are several options available, and the most common include laser surgery, drainage implants, and filtering surgery. Your Ophthalmologist will always advise you on what option is best for your condition.
Respond to any changes to your vision immediately
New Zealand has a great support system for anyone suffering with Glaucoma
The best thing you can do for your eyes is to always act on any pain, or any changes to your vision – immediately. Glaucoma can occur so gradually that you barely notice the changes as they happen, so make sure to be conscious of what’s normal for you to have your eyes checked regularly.
Don’t delay getting treatment or acting on any concerning changes. Your vision is a priceless commodity – protect it.
In need of a check up to look out for Glaucoma?
We’re always here with expert advice and are your go-to for a friendly eye exam. Book an appointment online or phone us on 09 525 1516.
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