Glaucoma - The silent thief of sight


Glaucoma - The silent thief of sight

You care for your body by eating well and exercising, but when was the last time you considered the health of your eyes? The wellness of your eyes is an important aspect of your overall wellbeing. You only have one pair of eyes, so if something happens to them, the consequences are serious.
Some eye diseases can sneak up on you with no warning signs. You may be experiencing patchy blind spots or struggling to see clearly. Glaucoma is one such progressive vision condition which can silently but gradually cause your eyesight to deteriorate. Don’t leave it too late; it’s essential to monitor and protect your eyes so that this secret sight thief doesn’t rob your future!


What's glaucoma?

According to the South African Glaucoma Society, glaucoma affects approximately 66 million people worldwide, and about 10% of those affected become permanently blind. An estimated 200,000 South Africans have this ailment.

Glaucoma is a complex disease whose effects are experienced very slowly, leading to a weakened optic nerve and blind spots in your eyesight. Dependent on the type and stage of your condition, symptoms differ. It’s possible that you won’t even notice any pain or change in your vision until glaucoma is already quite advanced, and you become aware of eyesight loss, which can’t be restored.

Symptom

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  • Primary open-angle glaucoma: occasional blind spots in your central or peripheral vision, often in both eyes; tunnel vision in advanced stages, or often no perceived symptoms at all
  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma: blurry or hazy vision; eye pain and/or redness; halos/rainbow-coloured circles surrounding bright lights; sudden vision loss; severe headaches; nausea and vomiting (if you experience any of these symptoms, visit your ophthalmologist or the emergency room immediately)
Cause
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The optic nerve, which transports information from your eyes to the visual centre in your brain, can become damaged by unusually high pressure in your eye. This is normally caused by an excess of fluid flowing inside your eye. When there is too much fluid or it isn’t drained properly, the pressure increases and your optic nerve is under strain, and good eyesight is compromised.

Too much caffeine, eating unhealthily, not sleeping with your head elevated or not drinking fluids regularly can all lead to high eye pressure.

High eye pressure and optic nerve damage is most often hereditary, so if they are common in your family, you could be prone to glaucoma.

Type

  • Primary open-angle glaucoma: the most common form, happening so slowly over many years that your vision might start disappearing before you notice anything.
  • Angle-closure glaucoma (also known as closed-angle glaucoma): happening in a matter of hours (acute-angle glaucoma, a medical emergency) or over a longer period (chronic angle-closure glaucoma).
Who's affected?
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Glaucoma is one of the main origins of blindness in people over the age of 60. It can occur at any age, even in infants and children (from birth or developing in early years), but it’s more common in adults, with the most common type occurring after 40 years of age.

Am I at risk?

Remember that chronic glaucoma often causes your eyesight to worsen before you’re aware of any symptoms, so consider your:

  • age (are you over 60?)
  • family history (get yourself checked frequently)
  • eye injuries or surgeries
  • high internal eye pressure (production of too much fluid with inadequate drainage)
  • medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sickle cell anaemia)
  • thinned centre of your corneas (normally round, they bulge into a cone-like shape)
  • usage of corticosteroid medications (eye drops) over long periods
  • vision (are you far-sighted? Smaller eyes are often far-sighted and more susceptible to glaucoma)
Prevention
  • avoid smoking
  • exercise often (to improve blood flow in your eyes) yet safely to reduce eye pressure
  • get your intra ocular pressures (IOP) tested regularly
  • keep a healthy weight and diet
  • protect your eyes to avoid serious eye injuries (especially when using power tools or playing high-speed racket sports like squash)
  • take prescribed glaucoma eye drops frequently if you have high IOP’s (this decreases the risk of high eye pressure developing into glaucoma)
How do I get checked?

A routine comprehensive dilated eye examination at your Spec-Savers optometrist can detect early glaucoma, before the start of eyesight loss and irreparable damage.

Your eye pressure is either measured with a small, lightweight probe with numbing eye drops to make your cornea less sensitive, or with a light puff of air into your eye. Eye pressure readings of above 21mm of mercury show increased risk of glaucoma. The sooner it’s recognized, the earlier your eyesight loss can be slowed down or altogether prevented.

How often should I get checked?

Your eyecare practitioner can advise what’s best for you, but as a general guide, get tested if you’re:

  • under 40 years old: every five to 10 years
  • 40 to 54 years old: every two to four years
  • 55 to 64 years old: every one to three years
  • over 65 years old: every one to two years
Treatment

If you have glaucoma, you may require ongoing treatment, based on the responsiveness to treatment. Depending on the type and severity of glaucoma, treatment could be either medical, surgical or both. Prescribed topical eye drops, laser treatment and micro - or other eye surgery all help.

Treatments can’t restore vision that’s already been lost, but they can prevent additional eyesight loss. It’s also possible that even after starting treatment, you lose even more vision.

If glaucoma isn’t treated, it first causes peripheral eyesight loss, but can ultimately make you blind. Despite treatment, some people with glaucoma lose vision in at least one eye within 20 years.

Seeing the way forward

With World Glaucoma Day approaching on 12 March 2020, spread awareness about this silent thief of sight. If you’re concerned about this, contact your optometrist for an appointment today. Your eyes will thank you for it.


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