What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that leads to the slow destruction of the optic nerve at the back of the eye, which then causes vision loss. Glaucoma is referred to as the ‘sneak thief of sight’ because most people don’t experience symptoms until it is very advanced. That’s why 50% of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed.
Glaucoma damage progresses very slowly and destroys vision gradually, starting with side vision. The damage is both irreversible and progressive.
Risk Factors of Glaucoma
More than 300,000 Australians have Glaucoma. While it is more common as people age, it can occur at any time of life. Having an affected family member increases your risk of developing glaucoma by approximately 8 times. As our population ages, the proportion of glaucoma patients continues to increase. One in 8 Australians over 80 will develop glaucoma.
Different Forms of Glaucoma
1. Chronic (primary open-angle) Glaucoma
This is the most common form of the disease. It is characterised by a structurally normal eye with potentially raised intraocular pressure inside the eye. In a less common type of this condition the ocular pressure is not raised, this is known as ‘low tension glaucoma’.
2. Acute (angle-closure) Glaucoma
This is when the pressure inside the eye rapidly increases due to the iris blocking the drainage of fluid in the eye. An attack of acute closure is often severe. People suffer pain, nausea, blurred vision and redness of the eye. Immediate medical help should be sought. If treatment is delayed, there can be permanent visual damage in a very short time. Usually, laser surgery performed promptly can clear the blockage and protect against visual impairment.
3. Congenital Glaucoma
This is a rare form of glaucoma caused by an abnormal drainage system. It can exist at birth or develop soon after. Parents may note that their child is sensitive to light, has enlarged and cloudy eyes, and experiences excessive watering. Surgery is usually needed.
4. Secondary Glaucoma
This can develop as a result of other disorders of the eye such as injuries, cataracts and eye inflammation. Treatment depends on the exact cause.