Social media and the internet, in general, have made it much easier to spread information about various medical conditions. It has helped raise both awareness and funds and drive public interest. We could say that most of us have now heard about medical conditions that we may never have otherwise encountered. Glaucoma is one of those conditions that can affect anyone at any time. Although it’s a condition most common in older people, it’s debilitating at any age and can lead to long-term problems.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition of the eye. It occurs when the optic nerve, the part of the eye that connects to the brain to transmit images, becomes damaged. If it isn’t detected early enough, it causes progressive damage that can eventually lead to permanent blindness. The damage occurs when fluid in the eye cannot drain as expected. This builds pressure within the eye and ultimately leads to nerve damage.
Glaucoma is preventable and treatable if caught early enough, but the problem is that due to the condition having few symptoms until late (and most being quite mild as explained below), it is not being caught early enough in the majority of cases. There are treatments and patients will usually need regular check-ups to ensure the problem does not reoccur later. Typical treatments for glaucoma are:
- Eye drops that help to reduce pressure in the eyes
- There are two types of laser treatment. The first will open up the blockage in the drainage tube(s). The second can reduce the production of fluid
- Surgery can improve the drainage of eye fluid
It’s important to remember that any eyesight loss that results from glaucoma cannot be reversed but it can stop the condition getting worse. You will also be expected to have regular check-ups after treatment.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Symptoms are not always obvious. Some people will have glaucoma for a long time before they realise, by which time it may already be too late – they may suffer irreversible eye damage. Most conditions are caught early during routine eye tests (of which older people are recommended to have regularly). However, some symptoms have been identified:
- Intense eye pain that will not go away
- Red eyes that have no “normal” explanation such as weather conditions or staring at a screen for too long
- Ongoing headaches
- Tenderness of the eye and the area around it
- Seeing rings around light sources
- Persistent blurred vision that does not have other explanations (eyesight loss of getting older)
About World Glaucoma Week
The week has run for several years as a collaborative effort between World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association. While the condition cannot be eliminated (as the causes are largely unknown), they do wish to raise the condition’s profile enough to reduce the number of people suffering vision damage as a result of the problem. By engaging professionals, patients and their family members, it seeks to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms, treatments and the various types of conditions that make up glaucoma.
WGW organisers believe that the number of people living with the condition will hit 76 million by 2020, most of them older people and most of them living in the developed world where access to health and eye care is not as well developed as it is in the western world. We also know that people with a history of glaucoma in their family are at higher risk than those who do not. Also, people with Asian, Caribbean and African heritage are at higher risk – even those born and bred in the western world – suggesting a possible genetic cause in some cases.