The eighth annual World Glaucoma Week runs between 12 and 18 March 2017. This event has been created by the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association in partnership to raise awareness of the condition, educate the public on the importance of regular eye tests, and to try to eliminate the growing threat of glaucoma blindness.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage of the optic nerve at the point where it leaves the eye to carry visual information to the brain.
If left untreated, most types of glaucoma progress (without warning or obvious symptoms to the patient) towards gradually worsening, irreversible visual damage and may, ultimately, lead to blindness. It is estimated that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma; that number is expected to rise to 11.2 million by 2020. Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide and, because the condition can progress without the patient experiencing any initial visual symptoms, is often described as the “silent blinding disease” or the “sneak thief of sight”.
There are several types of glaucoma; some may occur as a complication of other visual disorders (the so-called “secondary” glaucomas) but the vast majority occur without a known cause. In most cases the condition manifests itself after the fourth decade of life, and its frequency then increases with age. The condition can be either chronic, during which visual symptoms deteriorate gradually over time, or acute in which case the patient experiences a very painful ocular condition leading to rapid vision loss.
On average, there is a 2.3% lifetime risk of a patient developing glaucoma. However, that risk increases ten-fold for any patient who has a direct relative (mother, father, brother or sister) with glaucoma. It is estimated that 50% of cases of glaucoma in the UK remain undetected and patients should be aware of the importance of regular eye testing and of informing their family members if they are diagnosed.
Regular eye examinations are the best form of prevention. Optometrists will routinely check for signs of early onset of glaucoma, which can include raised intraocular pressure, optic disc changes and visual field abnormalities. If there are any abnormalities in these routine examinations, the optometrist should make a referral to the patient’s GP or an ophthalmologist.
In general, it is recommended that a check for glaucoma should be done:
There is no cure for glaucoma and vision loss is irreversible. However, if detected early, lifelong treatment (usually in the form of eye drops) can halt or slow-down any further visual deterioration, and can mean that most people retain their sight. Early detection is, therefore, essential to limiting visual impairment and preventing the progression towards severe visual handicap or blindness. This week, Vision Express is helping to raise awareness of the condition, and the importance of early detection, by offering free eye tests.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: "Early detection and diagnosis of glaucoma is imperative in order to prevent visual deterioration and potentially blindness. Patients over 40, who have a first degree relative with glaucoma, are entitled to a free NHS eye test to check for early onset of the condition, and should be utilising that service.
“However, despite processes being in place to try to detect patients with early onset glaucoma, we have seen examples where patients’ symptoms have been missed, or referrals have not been sent, causing patients to suffer impaired long-term vision.
“If you, or someone you know, have visual symptoms, we recommend seeing your GP or optometrist as soon as possible. If you are concerned about the ophthalmic treatment you have received, we would be happy to speak with you to discuss your options.”