Glaucoma – ‘the silent thief of sight’

Glaucoma is known as ‘the silent thief of sight’ because patients can lose their outer-most vision over time with no other symptoms. Due to the chronic nature of the disease, sight is stolen very gradually and by the time you realise it you may already have significant loss of vision.

According to the South African Glaucoma society 50% of people don’t even know they have the disease, and this percentage can go up to 90% in developing countries.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma encompasses a group of eye diseases that progressively damage the optic nerve, which transmits electrical signals from the eye to the brain. If the disease is not treated, there will be irreversible, progressive vision loss and, in many cases, may result in blindness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Elevated eye pressure is due to a build-up of a fluid that flows throughout the inside of your eye. This internal fluid normally drains out through a tissue called the trabecular meshwork at the angle where the iris and cornea meet. When fluid is overproduced or the drainage system doesn’t work properly, the fluid can’t flow out at its normal rate and eye pressure increases.

Are you at risk?

Here are the most common glaucoma risk factors:

  • Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
  • Being over age 60
  • Being black, Asian or Hispanic
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia
  • Having corneas that are thin in the center
  • Being extremely near-sighted or farsighted
  • Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
  • Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eyedrops, for a long time

Regular eye checks are crucial

Because there is no cure for glaucoma, and there are no symptoms in most forms of the disease, screening is crucial to ensure cases are detected and treated early.

Medication or surgery – either traditional or laser − can halt or slow further vision loss. The success of these interventions can be limited in later stages, so it’s important to detect glaucoma early .  

Regular eye checks by an optometrist or ophthalmologist are important and should occur earlier with a known family history of glaucoma.

Sources: South African Glaucoma Society, The Conversation, Envision Sight, Mayo Clinic



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