In Australia more than half the cases of glaucoma have a known positive family history.
-When a close family member is affected with glaucoma, the family member’s risk of developing glaucoma is up to 10 fold higher than the rest of the population.
-Many people affected with glaucoma, don’t pass this information on to their family members
-Even when information is passed on, many family members choose to ignore it.
-Routinely examining close relatives of those affected has been shown to be effective at diagnosing new cases or identifying ‘glaucoma suspects’ who require close and careful monitoring.
So what is glaucoma? It is estimated to effect around 300,000 Australians, with about half of these being undetected. Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerves in the back of the eye, and if left untreated, significant peripheral vision loss (tunnel vision) and blindness can occur. People are generally asymptomatic in the early stages of glaucoma. Central vision is unaffected until the condition is very advanced hence “the silent thief of sight”. In some cases patients may notice blurred vision, coloured rings around lights and/or pain and redness of the eye (especially if the pressure in the eye is very high).
Vision loss (retinal nerve fibre damage) from glaucoma is permanent, however early detection and treatment aims to prevent further loss of vision. The most common treatment is eye drops; however laser and surgery are sometimes used. The aim is to lower the fluid pressure within the eye which has a protective effect on the retinal nerves.
The risk of developing glaucoma is significantly higher if you have a family history of glaucoma, or you have diabetes, suffer from migraines, significant short sightedness (myopia), eye injuries (significant trauma), blood pressure problems or past/present use of cortisone (steroids e.g. Prednisone) medications.
Your optometrist can screen you for glaucoma (view the optic nerve & measure intraocular pressures) and if there is any suspicion may recommend further tests such as a visual field test, which assesses your peripheral vision sensitivity, or an OCT scan of the retinal nerve fibre layer. Should a diagnosis of glaucoma be made, treatment will be commenced under a co-management system with an ophthalmologist. Importantly, if you are a glaucoma suspect or have been diagnosed with glaucoma then assessment is ongoing throughout your life (regular review).
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