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Are your eyes vulnerable to the silent sight stealer?

Do you know about the silent sight stealer that is glaucoma? World Glaucoma Week (8-14 March, 2015), events will be held all over the world to increase the awareness of the serious – but treatable condition.

So what is glaucoma?

Usually a chronic condition, glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions in which there is abnormally high pressure (in most cases of these conditions) in the eye from build up of fluid in the eyeball. Over time, this results in damage to the optic nerve causing permanent vision loss.

The normal eye requires the production, circulation and drainage of fluid in the eyeball. In most cases of glaucoma, the pressure increase inside the eyes is due to a blockage in the circulation of this fluid or insufficient drainage of this fluid out of the eyeball.

The build-up of pressure in the eye can gradually damage the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain) resulting in gradual, permanent loss of vision. Glaucoma often affects both eyes, usually to varying degrees. One eye may develop glaucoma faster than the other.

Are you at risk?

Aged Couple in a Car

Glaucoma can affect people of any age, but it’s most common after the age of 40.

You have a higher risk of being affected by glaucoma if you have a family history of it. Certain ethnic groups – including people of Asian descent[i] – are more at risk of glaucoma. Currently, a massive 50 per cent of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed[ii].

Those with conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or those who regularly use medications such as corticosteroids are also at greater risk of glaucoma.

It is a ‘silent sight stealer’ in that in many cases of glaucoma which go undiagnosed and untreated, the loss of vision is very gradual, beginning in the peripheral vision and extending very slowly towards the central parts of vision – in the absence of any other symptoms.

An eye examination is needed for an accurate diagnosis to be made to prevent or limit damage to the optic nerve. Early diagnosis is important because damage to the eyes cannot be reversed. You can’t prevent glaucoma, but you can slow down its development with early treatment. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause visual impairment and progress to tunnel vision and ultimately result in total blindness.

Driving and glaucoma

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you may have a number of vision problems. Having glaucoma may make it more difficult for you to see and react in time to avoid obstacles, you may have blurred vision and your eyes may take longer to adjust in bright sunlight or from headlight glare at night, too.

Those with glaucoma or those taking medications to manage glaucoma may experience uncomfortable glare from car headlights and fluorescent lights. During bright days, try wearing glasses with tinted brown lenses and a lighter tint of amber may work better for you when it is overcast[iii]. You’ll need to experiment to find out what suits you best, but yellow, amber and brown shades may provide the best glare protection. Ask your optometrist about flip down lenses to go over your regular glasses for quick protection.

Get your eyes checked

If you are 40 or older, make an appointment to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination every one and a half to two years. If you are 40 or older and have an additional risk factor listed above, get tested every year. If you’re at an especially high risk, get yourself tested every year or two after 35[iv].

Your optometrist is qualified to examine your eyes for eye and vision disorders and to treat the problems. During an eye test, your optometrist will screen for common eye diseases including glaucoma.

Treating Elders

Some cases of glaucoma can be controlled through medicines and eye drops, but around one in ten people may need surgery.

Attending regular appointments with your optometrist will help to ensure any signs of glaucoma can be detected early and allow treatment to begin.

Jui Tham
Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund


[i] Glaucoma Research Foundation. Glaucoma In Asian Populations.

[ii] Glaucoma Australia. Glaucoma Facts.

[iii] Glaucoma Research Foundation. Glaucoma and Driving.

[iv] The Glaucoma Foundation. Who’s at risk?


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