Glaucoma … the Silent Sight Thief

Millions are going blind without realising it.
World Glaucoma Week: 12th to 18th March 2017

The next World Glaucoma Week falls on 6th to 12th March 2016, and the International Glaucoma Association (IGA) is calling for people to save their sight by booking an eye test.

Glaucoma is often known as the ‘thief of sight’ because there are usually no symptoms in the early stages. Approximately 2% of people over 40 have the condition, and it is a leading cause of preventable blindness. It is estimated that glaucoma has caused blindness in 4.5 million people worldwide1, and this is predicted to rise to 11.2 million by 2020. Glaucoma affects half a million people in England and Wales3, and the tragedy is that half of them remain undiagnosed and are needlessly suffering irreversible sight loss.

The knock-on effects are also serious, and driving with undiagnosed glaucoma can be especially dangerous, since it causes loss of peripheral vision. Motorists may therefore miss hazards such as cyclists, merging traffic and crossing pedestrians. Patients with advanced glaucoma may have to surrender their driving licence, which makes it particularly important to catch the disease early, when treatment is most effective.

The IGA is the charity for people with glaucoma and, according to its Chief Executive, David Wright FIAM FRSA, “Research4 suggests that less than a third of people know that glaucoma is an eye condition, with less than a fifth aware that it can lead to blindness if untreated. Global initiatives, such as World Glaucoma Week, are therefore invaluable when it comes to raising awareness and saving sight. If you are over 40, you should have a regular routine eye test at least once every two years to be sure that there is nothing wrong or, if there is a problem, to have it detected at a stage when treatment is most effective.” The IGA’s mission is to raise awareness of glaucoma, promote research related to early diagnosis and treatment, and to provide support to glaucoma patients, their carers and relatives. It offers free information and advice through its Sightline service (01233 64 81 70) and its website (www.glaucoma-association.com).

If it’s diagnosed early, glaucoma is almost always manageable and the outlook is good. But regular eye tests are essential if the condition is to be caught in time to prevent permanent sight loss. People with a family history of glaucoma are at greater risk of developing the disease and should have their eyes tested every year

Additional facts about glaucoma
•    Glaucoma affects 2% of people over 40
•    Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in the UK
•    It is estimated that by 2020 the number of people registered blind because of glaucoma will increase by about 27%5
•    In most cases, glaucoma has no symptoms, which means that significant sight loss can occur before it is noticed
•    While anyone can develop glaucoma, some people are at a higher risk, including people:
•    with a family history of glaucoma
•    over the age of 40
•    with high intraocular pressure, or pressure inside the eye
•    of African-Caribbean origin
•    who are very short sighted
•    who have diabetes6
•    95% of the sensory input to the brain required for driving comes from vision
•    Damage caused by glaucoma cannot be recovered
•    Everybody should have an eye test at least every two years but people who are over the age of 60 and people at higher risk should have an eye test every year

Detection requires three tests:
•    Ophthalmoscopy (an examination of the optic nerve) – scanning and tracking potential changes with OCT scanning is recommended
•    Tonometry (a measurement of the pressure within the eye)
•    Perimetry (a check of the field of vision) – although perimetry is least accurate in early disease stages.
•    Treatment of glaucoma will usually be with eye drops, but may include laser or surgery

About World Glaucoma Week
World Glaucoma Week is a global initiative aimed at raising awareness of glaucoma. It is organised by the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association, and the fifth annual World Glaucoma Week is held on 12th–18th March 2017. Governments, eye care professionals and patient groups worldwide are participating in activities to raise awareness of glaucoma and encourage earlier detection to help preserve vision. For more information, please visit http://www.wgweek.net

About the IGA
The International Glaucoma Association (IGA) is the charity for people with glaucoma. Its mission is to raise awareness of glaucoma, promote research related to early diagnosis and treatment and to provide support to glaucoma patients, their carers and relatives. Set up in 1974, it is the oldest patient based glaucoma association in the world. As part of its support services, it operates the IGA Sightline (helpline) and provides free information on any aspect of glaucoma. The IGA supports the UK Vision Strategy.

For more information about glaucoma, contact the International Glaucoma Association (IGA) Sightline on 01233 64 81 70 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am–5.00pm).

1 World Health Organization data from www.who.int/blindness/causes/priority/en/
2 Quigley et al. Br J Ophthalmol 2006; 90:262-267
3 National research strategy for ophthalmology, Royal College of Ophthalmologists London: RCOphth, 2002
4 2010 survey by Facts International on behalf of the International Glaucoma Association
5 Future Sight Loss UK – An epidemiological and economic model for sight loss in the decade 2010–2020 (2009) RNIB
6 Glaucoma Research Foundation – “Are You at Risk For Glaucoma?” Available at: http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/are-you-at-risk-for-glaucoma.php, accessed 17th February 2012