Can you tell me about the eye disease glaucoma; how do you know if you have it? What symptoms do you get?
Unfortunately with Glaucoma, there are often no symptoms early on until the condition has caused irreversible eye damage and vision loss. It’s called a silent eye thief and incredibly around 50 percent of people in Australia with glaucoma don’t even realise they have it.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases where there's progressive damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye. This prevents visual signals getting through to the brain. Early on, even though there may be some nerve damage, it’s fairly common for the symptoms to go unnoticed until it’s too late and the damage is permanent.
First up, peripheral vision may be lost and you may not see things at the edge of your visual fields and the loss may progress from there. Ray Charles, the musician, suffered from glaucoma and permanently lost his vision as a young child. In Australia around 300,000 people are affected.
The good news is that glaucoma can be detected early with a thorough eye check through your optometrist or eye doctor.Often this can be bulk billed on medicare. Your optometrist can test for early warning signs of trouble including raised pressure in your eye, your ability to see clearly at the edges of your visual fields and the appearance of your optic nerve at the back of the eye.
Sometimes a photo will be taken of your retina and optic nerve for future reference which can be useful. I suggest that people get their eyes regularly checked for glaucoma from the age of 40. If you can prevent damage to the optic nerve with early detection and treatment of glaucoma, you can maintain your vision. Often, we don’t realise just how precious sight is until it is gone.
Visit Glaucoma Australia's website.
Dr Caroline West is a GP with an interest in healthy lifestyle medicine. Currently she is the President of the Australian Lifestyle Medicine Association. She practices at East Sydney Doctors
Dr West is also a spokesperson for World Sight Day held on the second Thursday in October each year. World Sight Day is a global initiative raising the profile of causes of blindness and vision impairment. The focus this year is on prevention.