There is a very good reason why adults should think about having regular eye checks. It’s a disease called glaucoma which usually destroys eyesight so slowly and painlessly that people with the condition may not realise anything is wrong until much of their vision is lost. Glaucoma can’t be cured but early detection with regular eye tests every two years for people over 40 (or over 35 if you have high risk of the disease) can reduce damage to their vision. If treated early, most people with glaucoma can keep their sight for the rest of their lives.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in Australia. Although it’s more likely to affect people over 40, it can occur at any age and occasionally in children and young adults too. Anyone with a family history of glaucoma has a higher risk of developing the disease. If you have a parent or grandparent with a vision problem, it is important to find out what the cause is, just in case it is glaucoma.
Other risk factors for glaucoma include having diabetes, high blood pressure, migraine, being short-sighted, a previous eye injury, or using cortisone drugs (steroid) either now or in the past.
What causes glaucoma?
It happens when a very important part of the eye called the optic nerve becomes damaged. A common cause is increased pressure from the build-up of fluid inside the eye. This pressure destroys the optic nerve. However, this damage is very gradual. As it starts by affecting the side/ peripheral vision, the loss often go unnoticed until quite a lot of vision has been lost.
How is glaucoma treated?
Although there is no cure for the disease, it can usually be controlled with treatment that prevents, or at least slows down, any further loss of sight. However it does not improve eyesight. Treatments include:
- Eye drops are the most common treatment. However, they must be used regularly to be effective. Occasionally pills are prescribed too.
- Laser can be used to relieve the pressure caused by fluid building up in the eye. A laser is a very concentrated beam of light that is used in many different kinds of medical treatment.
- Surgery is required when other treatment fail to control the pressure in the eye.