July: Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is the number one cause of preventable blindness in New Zealand.

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of related diseases where the optic nerve is being damaged. The nerve fibres progressively die, taking away the peripheral or side vision first. Therefore visual loss goes undetected until it is quite advanced. For this reason glaucoma is referred to as “the sneak thief of sight”.

The average person over the age of 40 has about a 1% chance of developing glaucoma. However, those with a relative with glaucoma have a much greater chance of developing the disease.

Glaucoma can be detected by regular check-ups. Everyone over the age of 45 should be checked for glaucoma at least every five years, and every three years for those over 60 or with a family history of glaucoma. People have presented with severe glaucoma damage after many years of purchasing “ready made” / “hobby” glasses. The harm does not come from the glasses but from the absence of any eye examination over long periods of time.  

While damage to the optic nerve is permanent, and progressive if untreated, the disease can be managed to prevent further damage and associated vision loss. Treatment for glaucoma is aimed at lowering the eye pressure. The earlier the detection and implementation of treatment the greater the chance of preventing loss of sight.

A standard vision examination at Haydons includes screening for glaucoma. Typical tests for this disease include measurement of the eye pressure, assessment and imaging of the optic nerve, and visual field testing.  We also have innovative technology that lets us “see under the surface” of the retina and better assess the optic nerve and nerve fibres feeding into it. This instrument, the Optical Coherence Tomographer (OCT), is proving to be a valuable tool in the diagnosis of glaucoma.

With timely treatment and good education, people with glaucoma can retain excellent vision their entire life.

Issue 100 July 2019