World Glaucoma Week (March 8-14) aims to highlight the plight of glaucoma which is commonly called “The Silent Thief” as it can suddenly and without symptoms cause irreversible vision loss or blindness by damaging the optic nerve, most times due to increased eye pressure.
Initially, there are usually no discernible symptoms and many people are unaware that they even have glaucoma. Vision is usually lost slowly over time, particularly the side/peripheral vision or vision closest to your nose. Because of this very slow loss, it can be difficult to even tell if your vision is changing.
As the disease progresses, you may begin to notice that you could no longer see things off to the sides. Left untreated, glaucoma can eventually cause total blindness.
Some forms of glaucoma can sometimes have symptoms. These symptoms will usually be sudden and severe and include:
•Severe eye pain
•Nausea and vomiting
Anyone can get glaucoma, however the risk increases if you are over the age of 50 or have a family history of glaucoma. It is advised that since some forms of glaucoma are hereditary, you should have a dilated eye exam yearly to ensure early diagnosis.
A Glaucoma assessment screening usually includes a minimum of four painless tests. These are:
Test of eye pressure —this is usually a standard test done before most eye examinations
OCT glaucoma—this test uses non-invasive light waves to take cross-section pictures
Visual Field Test- this test is used to produce a map of your field of vision to determine whether your vision has been affected by glaucoma.
Pachymetry— this is a quick and simple test to measure the thickness of your cornea
While glaucoma is a very serious disease, treatment is usually simple and generally works well. There are three basic treatment options for glaucoma and they aim to lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to your optic nerve.
Eye Drops— Prescription eye drops are the most common treatment option.
Laser Treatment—This is a simple procedure that your doctor can do in the office to help lower your eye pressure. It’s low risk and can help augment even replace drop treatment.
Surgery- Surgery is usually recommended by your doctor if eye drops and laser treatment are ineffective.
Once diagnosed with glaucoma, it is imperative that you start treatment immediately. Your doctor will usually try eye drops or recommend laser to start. The most critical factor with fighting glaucoma is to ensure that you continue to use the eye drops as prescribed by your doctor.
While forgetting to put drops can occasionally occur, consistent and repetitive failure to comply with the treatment as prescribed can result in poor glaucoma control and eventually vision loss.
Glaucoma treatment is continuous and very effective once maintained. There is no cure for glaucoma, but early and persistent intervention can help reduce further damage.
Dr Ronnie Bhola
Trinidad Eye Hospital