Glaucoma – The Silent Thief
In 2020, it was estimated that approximately 80 million people worldwide had glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and can cause irreversible vision loss without any symptoms or fore warning. It has been called the silent thief of sight.
Glaucoma is an eye condition which develops from the inability of fluid to drain from the eye properly, leading to increased eye pressure and optic nerve damage. Initially, persons may not be aware that they have glaucoma, as the vision loss is usually very slow and painless. As the disease progresses vision loss begins with the reduction of peripheral or side vision and if left untreated, can eventually result in total blindness.
Chronic open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma and has no symptoms. Other forms of glaucoma have symptoms which may include the sudden onset of severe eye pain, headaches, halos around lights, nausea and vomiting and blurred vision. Acute attacks of these symptoms are considered an emergency and you should see an Ophthalmologist immediately if they occur.
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but some persons have a higher risk factor. These include persons over the age of 60, persons of African descent over 40, those with a family history of glaucoma, diabetics, corticosteroid users and highly short-sighted people.
Up to 50% of people in developed countries, are affected by glaucoma but are not even aware that they have it. Regular eye examinations and glaucoma screenings are key to ensuring early diagnosis and preventing vision loss. This involves measuring and monitoring the internal ocular pressure of the eyes (IOPs), measuring corneal thickness (pachymetry) and assessing the optic nerves. Other investigative tests include visual field tests to evaluate the peripheral vision, and Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans to determine if there is any damage to the optic nerve.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for glaucoma. However, it can be managed with medication – usually in the form of eye drops, laser treatments or surgery. With the correct treatment, it is possible to prevent further vision loss. Although treatments are generally simple, compliance with treatment is of the utmost importance. Once maintained, treatment is usually very effective. Forgetting to use the medications can result in poor glaucoma control and vision loss. Glaucoma is a condition that needs to be monitored for life. It is easy for glaucoma patients to become discouraged by the frequent monitoring, as they may feel nothing is wrong given the lack of symptoms. Compliance with visits to the Ophthalmologist and use of prescribed medication is crucial as persons do not observe any changes to their vision until advanced stages of the disease.
The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to have regular comprehensive eye examinations. If you are diagnosed, begin treatment immediately. Do not let the silent thief take away your gift of sight.