This week marked World Glaucoma Week but what exactly is Glaucoma?
It’s defined as a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage of the optic nerve at the point where it leaves the eye to carry visual information to the brain. If left untreated, most types of glaucoma (without any warning or obvious symptoms to the patient) will result in visual damage and in some cases blindness. Once visual damage has occurred, it is often irreversible.
Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. It is estimated that 4.5 million globally are completely blind due to glaucoma and that this number will rise to 11.2 million by 2020. Currently it is estimated 64.3m globally have some Glaucoma-related impairment, and by 2020, this figure will rise to over 76m. Due to the silent progression of the disease – at least in its early stages – up to 50% of those affected in developed countries are not even aware they have glaucoma. In underdeveloped parts of the world it is estimated that this figure may rise to nearly 90%.
There are several types of glaucoma. Some may occur as a complication of other visual disorders (the so-called “secondary” glaucomas) but the majority of cases are “primary”, i.e. they occur without a known cause. It was once believed that the overriding cause behind glaucoma was high pressure within the eye (known as intraocular pressure – sometimes abbreviated to IOP). However, it is now established that even people without an abnormally high IOP suffer from glaucoma. Intraocular pressure is therefore considered a “Risk Factor” for glaucoma but not the cause. Other risk factors include racial ancestry, family history, high myopia and age.
Some forms of glaucoma may occur at birth (“congenital”) or during infancy and childhood (“juvenile”); in most cases however, glaucoma appears after the 4th decade of life, and its frequency increases with age. There is no clearly established difference in glaucoma incidence between men and women.
The most common types of adult-onset glaucoma are Primary Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG) – a form most frequently encountered in patients of Caucasian and African ancestry – and Angle-Closure Glaucoma (ACG), which is more common in patients of Asian ancestry. Angle-Closure Glaucoma is often chronic, like POAG, but can sometimes be acute, in which case it usually presents as a very painful ocular condition leading to rapid vision loss.
As yet, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, medication or surgery (traditional or laser) can halt or slow-down any further vision loss making early detection essential. If discovered early enough appropriate treatment can limit the resulting visual impairment and prevent future blindness. Your eye-care professional can detect glaucoma in its early stages and advise you on the best course of action.
So, don’t delay, if you are in any of the risk categories and haven’t been to an eye-care professional recently, then we recommend you book a check-up, just to be on the safe side.
You can find more information on glaucoma by following these links.