January 24, 2019
For Re:Vision Sight Correction Centre, January means Glaucoma Awareness Month. According to the Blind Foundation, it is estimated that glaucoma affects some 70,000 New Zealanders, and is the second most common cause of blindness and affected, low vision in New Zealanders aged over 65. And over half of those affected, it is estimated, aren’t even aware they have glaucoma. Yes, you read that right.
Glaucoma is often referred to as the “thief of sight”, slowly and painlessly robbing us of our vision over time. The progression happens so slowly as to often be imperceptible – the sufferer often doesn’t perceive that anything is wrong. Despite this, glaucoma is a disease that is preventable, with appropriate preventative assessments and treatments available.
Disease awareness is an important first step in managing a disease like glaucoma. With a bit of understanding about what causes glaucoma and a healthy helping of preventative medicine, the disease can be bested.
Today we’ll be discussing glaucoma broadly, including how you can find the early warning signs of glaucoma, and what glaucoma treatment entails.
Glaucoma is best described as a group of related eye diseases, which results in optic nerve damage and progressive vision loss. This includes open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma in New Zealand. Here, optic nerve damage is primarily caused by high intraocular pressure, or excessive fluid pressure in the eye, and occurs for a range of reasons including poor fluid drainage or changes in the eye structure.
When it comes to the signs and symptoms of glaucoma, it can get a bit trickier as this is where we miss opportunities for prevention. In particular, open-angle glaucoma is typically painless and lacks acute moments of deterioration; there tend to be no major symptoms which sufferers can identify. However, the major sign of glaucoma is progressive vision loss, starting from the outer edge of our field of view and progressing inwards.
Here’s the bottom line: the most important way to prevent glaucoma is to have regular check-ups with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
As you get older, the risk of developing glaucoma increases. We recommend that you get a comprehensive eye check done by an optometrist or ophthalmologist by the time you are 40 years old to get a comprehensive understanding of your eye health.
There are two primary methods of checking your eye health, with regard to glaucoma.
If your doctor suspects glaucoma following these two tests, they may request imaging of your optic nerve, as well as other special tests designed to assess your side vision.
Following a diagnosis, your ophthalmologist will recommend a course of treatment. Treatment can slow, or even halt, the advancement of glaucoma. The most common treatment is aimed at reducing eye pressure to prevent further damage to the optic nerve.
These are the most common form of early glaucoma treatment. Eye drops are aimed at helping your eye fluid drain better, or help your eye make less fluid to reduce pressure. If you have eye drops prescribed, it is important to build them into your daily routine.
Laser surgery aims to improve the drainage of eye fluid that puts pressure on the optic nerve. Through high beams of light, the drainage holes in our eyes are made slightly wider, to assist in drainage. Typically, one eye will be treated at a time.
Surgery is another way to prevent the progression of glaucoma, especially if eye drops or laser surgery are ineffective at halting the progression of the disease. Surgery typically aims to make a new opening in the eye for fluid to drain.
Glaucoma affects many New Zealanders, with many people getting caught unawares and losing their sight. Yet, it is a disease that is preventable, given proper awareness and preventative medicine. This month, make sure to tell your friends and family about this prevalent disease, and if you suspect you or your loved one may be suffering from glaucoma, book in an assessment with your eye doctor right away. Don't forget, if any other member of your family has been diagnosed with glaucoma, it is important to get your eyes checked, as glaucoma can run in the family.