Glaucoma is a disease which affects the optic nerve inside of the eye.
It is the most common cause of preventable blindness in the western world.
At present, Glaucoma affects approximately 3% of people over the age of 50 in Ireland, but this is expected to rise over the next decade as our population becomes older.
It is much more common in people of African descent, with around 15% affected, and people with a family history have a 20% risk.
What causes Glaucoma?
Inside of the eye, a liquid called aqueous humour is produced, which helps keep the eye in its normal round shape. This liquid is then drained out of the eye through a sieve-like mesh.
If the eye produces too much of this liquid or it doesn’t drain properly, then there will be a build-up of pressure inside the eye.
For most people with glaucoma the pressure builds very slowly over time, as the drainage structure inside of the eye becomes less effective with age. This causes damage to the optic nerve with a gradual loss of peripheral vision, but no obvious symptoms at the early stages.
A more acute form of glaucoma can also occur when there is a sudden block in the drainage system, causing a rapid increase in pressure. This is extremely painful and requires immediate treatment.
What can you do?
A regular eye examination is the first step in detection of glaucoma, and this should include an examination of the optic nerve, a measurement of the pressure inside of the eye and a visual field examination where necessary.
If signs of glaucoma are suspected by your optometrist, you can be referred to an ophthalmologist for treatment. Treatment in most cases is with medicated eye drops, but sometimes surgery is required.
In all cases, early detection is the key to reducing risk and so an eye examination every 2 years is a must for anyone above the age of 40.