Glaucoma might sound like an eye condition reserved for older people, but around one in 200 people have glaucoma by the age of 40. In fact, an estimated 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, but up to half of them don’t know they have it. We spoke to Michael Angerame, qualified optometrist and Optometry Development Consultant for Specsavers, to find out how to spot glaucoma and treat it.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve, which is responsible for relaying messages from the eyes to the brain.
The eye constantly produces a fluid called aqueous humour that nourishes the eye. When the production and drainage of this fluid is adversely affected, pressure can build up inside the eye. Chronic glaucoma develops when the increased pressure slowly damages the optic nerve and the nerve fibres in the retina, causing irreversible damage to your eyesight. Although less common, acute glaucoma can happen when the pressure rises quickly to higher levels and causes pain.
The main categories of glaucoma are open-angle glaucoma and closed-angle glaucoma.
Who is at risk of developing glaucoma?
“If you have a direct family history of glaucoma, higher levels of short-sightedness or are aged over 40, you may be at risk of developing glaucoma,” says Michael. “Smoking and diabetes are also risk factors.”
Other risk factors include having:
a history of high or low blood pressure
an eye operation or eye injury
African or Asian heritage
a history of taking steroids for long periods
high eye pressure (known as ocular hypertension).
The symptoms to look out for
Chronic glaucoma is painless and usually starts with vision loss at the outer edge of your peripheral vision before slowly working inwards. “Glaucoma is often referred to as the thief of sight because there are often no signs or symptoms,” explains Michael. “If you don’t get regular eye checks, you might not notice it until the glaucoma is close to the centre of your vision.”
Symptoms that could indicate acute glaucoma include:
A sudden and painful build-up of pressure in the eye
Seeing halos around lights.
Acute glaucoma is considered a medical emergency. If you have any of these symptoms (even if they go away), you should seek immediate medical care from an optometrist, your GP or your hospital ER.
When to get tested
You should have an eye test every two years, or more often if advised by your optometrist. They may recommend more frequent eye tests if one of your close relatives has glaucoma, such as a parent or sibling.
If you have sight problems in between screening appointments, such as sudden vision loss or deterioration in your vision, seek immediate advice,” Michael notes. “Don’t wait until your next screening appointment.
While most cases of glaucoma can be treated, early detection is key to prevent or minimise further damage. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause irreversible vision damage or loss.
If your optometrist suspects you have glaucoma, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist for further testing. Treatment for glaucoma usually consists of daily eye drops, laser treatment, surgery and regular follow-up appointments.
Ready to book an appointment? Check out the nib First Choice Optical network to search for local optometrists. First Choice is our community of specially selected health providers who are committed to delivering quality care and value for money.
At nib, we offer a range of Extras cover that include optical benefits. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using Member Services. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
As Optometry Development Consultant (Professional Services) for Specsavers, Michael Angerame is dedicated to helping optometrists across Australia and New Zealand to provide the best possible care. He regularly appears on TV and radio to help educate the public on keeping their eyes healthy. Michael enjoys a morning walk with a long black and his sausage dog Henry.