Glaucoma

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the term used to describe a group of eye diseases which damage the optic nerve, the cable that connects the eye to the brain. If left untreated glaucoma can result in blindness.  In the more common forms of glaucoma there is increased pressure in the eye which presses on the optic nerve and causes a gradual loss of your side vision. Glaucoma is the most common cause of irreversible blindness in Australia and around 300,000 Australians have it, half of them do not even know they have it.

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How do I know if I have Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a slowly developing condition with no warning symptoms. It is called the ‘Silent thief of sight” because people can go blind without realizing it. The only way to detect early glaucoma is to be tested by your eye specialist or optometrist. The current Australia NHMRC guidelines recommend a regular eye health check for Caucasians over the age of 50 years and for African-descended people over the age of 40 years.

Who is at risk?

Age and Family history are the two major risk factors for glaucoma. If you have a blood relative with glaucoma and are over the age of 40 years, we strongly recommend glaucoma screening.

Risk factors for glaucoma are:

  • Age – over 40 years
  • Family history
  • Increased intraocular pressure within the eye
  • Short sightedness
  • Diabetes & African heritage
  • Steroid use
  • Hypertension
  • History of migraines

Glaucoma Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, eye drops and laser are very effective in lowering eye pressure which in turn prevents vision loss from glaucoma. It is important to have regular review of the eyes if diagnosed with glaucoma to check on the pressure in the eyes, the side vision with visual field testing and the appearance of optic nerve.

Treatments include:

  • Eye Drops: Most patients with glaucoma only require 1 eye drop to control their disease. The eye drops may differ in number or frequency depending on your condition. All drops must be used every day without fail to be effective.
  • Laser: Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) is a very effective laser in lowering eye pressure. It has the advantage of replacing a daily dose of medication, having very mild side effects and only takes a few minutes to complete. However, it is not suitable for everyone and its eye pressure lowering effects eventually fade and may require repeating.
  • Surgery: Surgery is usually reserved for glaucoma patients who do not respond to drops or laser. There are several types of operations that can be performed to control the eye pressure. In general, the lower the risk profile, the lower the chance it will work.
    • Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS): These newer types of operations used micro-stents to open up small channels to allow eye fluid to leave the eye. They are the safest glaucoma operation, but are only suitable for mild glaucoma cases.
    • Trabeculectomy: This is the traditional operation to create a small tunnel to lower the eye pressure. It is very effective operation and remains the first-choice operation in most cases.
    • Tube Implant: This implant diverts fluid out of the eye to lower the eye pressure. This operation is usually reserved for the most advanced cases.

Can Glaucoma cause blindness?

Glaucoma causes damage to the nerve responsible for your eyesight. This can lead to a loss of side vision and eventually central vision if left untreated. The damage caused by glaucoma is permanent and cannot be reversed. Therefore it is important to have glaucoma treated.

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