Glaucoma – damage to the optic nerve cells, often due to pressure inside the eye, causing loss of peripheral vision. Glaucoma may not always be self detected and must be treated early to prevent progressive and irreversible damage.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve at the back of the eye, which transmits information from the eye to the brain, is slowly and permanently destroyed. This prevents visual information from getting from the retina in the eye to the brain. In most people this damage is due to increased pressure inside the eye. If untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness.
What causes glaucoma?
The exact causes of glaucoma are not known. In some cases the drainage network of the eye may not be formed properly, or may become blocked by natural materials or due to injury; in other cases there is no clear cause.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Usually, there are no symptoms until the disease is in its later stages. Damage progresses very slowly and destroys vision gradually, starting with the side vision. Because each eye compensates for the other eye, it is often hard to detect glaucoma until it is too late. In some cases, the increased pressure in the eye will cause blurred vision, apparent coloured rings around lights, loss of side vision, and pain and redness of the eye, but people should not wait for symptoms to appear before being tested for glaucoma.
Does glaucoma affect driving safely?
Yes. You must be able to see properly to drive safely. Because people with glaucoma may have a reduced field of vision, they are more at risk of having driving accidents. Reduced peripheral (side) vision may prevent you from:
seeing cars close to them
seeing stop signs
seeing pedestrians on the road
A visual acuity test (of the central vision) undertaken when obtaining/changing glasses or renewing your driver’s license does not alert you to the possibility that an eye condition, such as glaucoma, may be present. It is therefore important to have a comprehensive eye test to decide whether your vision is clear enough to drive.
Who is at risk of glaucoma?
Up to 300,000 Australians have glaucoma but only half of them have been diagnosed. Glaucoma is more common as people age, so it is recommended that people over 40 are tested for glaucoma at least every 2 years. You are also more at risk if you:
have a blood relative with glaucoma
have diabetes and/or blood pressure problems
are short-sighted or long-sighted
have used steroids over an extensive period of time
suffer from migraine and/or poor circulation
have suffered a previous eye injury
How is glaucoma detected?
Eye pressure and other tests carried out by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) or optometrist can detect glaucoma at an early stage, often before significant damage has occurred. The tests are simple and painless. Since there is no simple way of checking for glaucoma yourself, regular eye examinations by a professional are recommended. To make a diagnosis of glaucoma, your ophthalmologist will need to:
take your medical history
measure your eye pressure
examine your optic nerve
check your drainage angle (angle between iris and cornea)
test your field of vision
How is glaucoma treated?
Once glaucoma is detected, treatment can usually prevent or at least slow down any further loss of sight. Treatment usually involves eye drops and medicine that reduce pressure inside the eye. Laser treatment surgery may be necessary if your eye pressure cannot be controlled through other methods.
Can glaucoma be cured?
No. Early detection and treatment are the best way to control glaucoma. Glaucoma is a life-long condition requiring continuing observation and management to keep eye pressure under control, and to prevent loss of vision. Vision damaged by glaucoma is irreversible.
Some iformation adapted from:
Optometrists Association of Australia web site. Used with permission.
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