An estimated 3% of people over the age of 50 in Ireland already have glaucoma and the Central Statistics Office estimates that the prevalence of the condition will jump by 33% by 2021, due to our ageing population1. The condition, which is often referred to as the silent thief of sight due to its gradual onset, is the third largest cause of blindness in the world.
World Glaucoma Week
Glaucoma can affect anyone; however, research shows that men are 16% more likely to lose their sight than women with the condition3 because they do not generally seek medical help as quickly as women. That is why this World Glaucoma Week (March 10-16), Specsavers is stressing the importance of having regular eye tests to detect the early signs and symptoms of the condition as well as highlighting the common risk factors associated with it.
Raised eye pressure
Chairperson of Specsavers Ireland Kerril Hickey says: ‘Glaucoma occurs when naturally-occurring fluid inside the eye does not drain properly causing a build-up of pressure. The condition often affects both eyes, usually to varying degrees, however, there are two types - chronic glaucoma which develops slowly and acute glaucoma which develops rapidly with a sudden, painful build-up of pressure in the eye.’ When you see your optometrist, they will carry out an eye pressure test using a tonometer. This instrument is used to measure the pressure inside the eye and is useful in identifying people who might have or are at risk of developing glaucoma.
Change in vision
Kerril continues: ‘With chronic glaucoma, the visual loss can initially be very subtle and occurs just beyond your central vision, progressing slowly inwards towards your central vision and outwards into the periphery. Most patients will not be aware of this visual loss due to the way the eyes visual fields overlap one another, compensating for one another.
The way this is detected by your optometrist is through the use of a visual field test. During this test, you will be shown a sequence of light spots and asked which ones you can see. Any very subtle blind spots, which you will probably be unaware of, can be an indicator of the condition.
However, acute glaucoma is often sudden and painful and may present with other symptoms including blurred vision and haloes around lights.’
Optic nerve damage
When you have glaucoma, the build-up of eye pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve and nerve fibres from the retina.
Kerril says: ‘This can be assessed in a variety of ways during your examination, but the real detail of a customer’s eye health will come from a photograph taken with a retinal camera. Digital retinal photography (DRP) captures an image of your optic nerve which can be used as a reference for future visits and to track any changes that may occur over time.’
Kerril adds: ‘There are several factors which could make you more at risk of developing glaucoma such as family history of the disease. Those who have black–African heritage or who have higher levels of short-sightedness are also more at risk.’
‘Your age also plays a big part’ says Kerril. ‘Two in every 100 people over 40 are affected by the condition2. The good news is glaucoma can generally be treated effectively if detected early and, in most cases, a daily eye drop can be used for treatment.’
Optometrists in Specsavers stores have taken advanced qualifications in glaucoma management to improve their skills and many front-of-house staff have been given extra training to better support customers with the condition, including how to administrate the eye drops effectively.
Kerril concludes: ‘Our sight is precious. We ensure we visit our dentist every six months, and a sight test every two years should also be on everyone’s to-do list. It can, quite literally, save your sight.’