Glaucoma is a complicated disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss.
Most interesting, around 70 million people worldwide already have this condition due in part to the rapidly aging population, according to data provided by the Glaucoma Research Foundation of the United States.
Glaucoma is a condition that affects the eye’s optic nerve, a bundle of tissue that carries information about what one sees from the eyes to your brain. This damage is usually but not always caused by the buildup of naturally produced fluid within the eye. When fluid cannot escape, the resulting pressure buildup causes the optic nerve to deteriorate, resulting in vision loss and irreversible blindness.
In fact, by the year 2020 it is estimated that 11.2 million individuals will be blind in both eyes from this condition, according to Prof. Harry Quigley and Aimee Broman of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
In the Philippines, glaucoma has been ranked as the leading cause of blindness in both eyes. There are currently no reliable estimates as to how many Filipinos have the disease.
As in most cases, glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, and without symptoms—only half of those who are actually diagnosed with glaucoma have any symptoms at all. Symptoms related to loss of vision or reduced vision in a person with glaucoma already indicates advanced disease.
Types of glaucoma
There are several types of glaucoma presenting with a variety of symptoms. The most common types of glaucoma called primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma may have completely different symptoms.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is generally quiet in terms of symptoms. There is a gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes. Noticeable tunnel vision only occurs in the advanced stages.
For acute angle-closure glaucoma, one should watch out for the occurrence of severe eye pain, nausea and vomiting (accompanying the severe eye pain), sudden onset of blurred vision, halos around lights and reddening of the eye.
In fact, majority of the patients who are elderly individuals often attribute their loss of vision to just growing old, which is not always the case.
But while vision loss from glaucoma is silent, slow, progressive and irreversible, one should realize that it is treatable and that glaucoma blindness may be prevented. Glaucoma can be controlled, especially when detected early.
At risk for glaucoma
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens although the disease is far more common in the elderly. It is therefore important to have regular eye examinations by a medical professional, especially if one is over the age of 40.
The risk of developing glaucoma increases if one is found to have high eye pressure (as measured in a routine eye examination), a family history of glaucoma, age over 45, have previous eye injury, chronic steroid use, diabetes mellitus and Asian descent.
During a glaucoma screening exam, the eye doctor will look inside the eye for signs of damage to the optic nerve. In addition, the doctor will gauge the fluid pressure inside the eyes with an instrument called a tonometer, which either rests against your eye’s (numbed) surface or sends a puff of air onto the cornea. The adequacy of the eye’s fluid drainage channels is also assessed (gonioscopy).
Other tests that may be included are those that measure one’s peripheral vision (perimetry) and visual acuity.
In observance of World Glaucoma Week, the Philippine Glaucoma Society and the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology, their members and industry partners will hold glaucoma awareness activities starting tomorrow until March 16.
Numerous glaucoma forums for lay people as well as glaucoma screening activities will be held in selected hospitals and eye centers countrywide. Visit www.wgweek.net and www.pao.org.ph for more details.