Glaucoma is a progressive disease of the optic nerve. It can be associated with elevated pressure inside the eye and can lead to permanent vision loss.
Because there are usually no symptoms at first, glaucoma is called the “sneak thief of sight”. As the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma may notice his or her vision gradually failing.
While glaucoma can strike anyone, the incidence is much greater in people over 60. Over 300,000 Australians have glaucoma. At present, 50% of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
There are several different types of glaucoma. Most of these involve the drainage system within the eye. In other patients the damage may be caused by poor blood supply to the vital optic nerves, a weakness in the structure of the nerve, and/or a problem in the health of the nerve fibres themselves.
Although anyone can get glaucoma, some people have a higher risk. They include those with:
People at higher risk should have an eye check no later than age 35. For most people, it is recommended to have an eye check for glaucoma by the age of 40.
The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma which has no symptoms until eyesight is lost at a later stage. It progresses very slowly and destroys vision gradually, starting with the side or peripheral vision. One eye covers for the other and the person remains unaware of any problem until a majority of nerve fibres have been damaged, and a large part of vision is destroyed. The damage is irreversible and treatment cannot recover what has been lost, but can save remaining vision.
Regular eye examinations are the best way to detect glaucoma early.
Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can usually be controlled and further loss of vision prevented or slowed down.
Other resources can be found at: www.glaucoma.org.au