So much has been said about glaucoma in recent times, arguably more than has been said about any other eye disease affecting humans. Despite all that has been said, about the disease, many more people are unaware of the disease condition, than those who are. Studies have shown that more half of people who have glaucoma are not aware they have the condition, and many of them report to the clinic only when they have lost a significant amount of their vision.
So what is glaucoma and why is it called the silent thief of sight?
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that progressively causes the death of the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits information from the eye to the brain), resulting in a characteristic damage to the visual fields, and visual loss/blindness.
In glaucoma, various factors may lead to the death of the optic nerve. But the major risk factor is high intraocular pressure (IOP). Just like we have blood pressure, we also have eye-pressure, or intra-ocular pressure (IOP). IOP is the pressure within the eyeballs. This is the force exerted by the aqueous humor-a fluid within the eyes on the eyeball and its contents. The normal range for this pressure is 10-21mmHg. When the pressure rises above 21mmHg (high intraocular pressure), it causes damage and eventually death to the optic nerve fibres. As one fibre dies, it releases chemicals into its surroundings, which triggers the death of other surrounding nerve fibres, leading to their death also.
What are the signs and symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma has no symptoms in its early stages. That is why it is called the silent thief of sight. You don’t know it is there until it has caused a significant loss of vision. But people who have had the disease for a long time may experience head-aches/eye-aches, darkening vision, difficulty reading, even with glasses on, tunnel vision (as though they are looking through a straw) and finally, total loss of vision.
Who is at risk for glaucoma?
Glaucoma is more common in black people (primary open angle glaucoma)and Asians (primary angle closure glaucoma), people who are shirt sighted, diabetics, hypertensives, old people, people who have a family member with glaucoma, people who smoke, people who use steroids (prednisolone, dexamethasone, betamethasone, etc), especially without a prescription.
Can glaucoma be cured?
Glaucoma cannot be cured! If glaucoma is picked up early, it can be managed effectively, usually, for life. Your eye doctor will performs some tests on your eyes and then put you on eyedrops and some capsules, which will help control the pressure and prevent further death of the optic nerve. But it is important to know that any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be recovered, so ensure it is found early. Early detection is key!
What do you do if you are unsure of your glaucoma status?
Visit your eye doctor regularly: most glaucoma cases will be picked up by your eye doctor in your yearly eye exam. Fix an appointment with your eye doctor today and know your status.
If you already have glaucoma: visit your eye doctor regularly to ensure the IOP is controlled and stable, and that there is no further loss of vision.
In summary, glaucoma is the silent thief of sight. It is always best to visit your eye doctor to know your status. Prevention, they say is better than cure. This rings louder, especially when you know there is no cure for glaucoma.