Glaucoma and Blindness in the over 40's

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Article published on 16th May 2008

The primary cause of preventable blindness within the UK comes from a a family of diseases that affect the optic nerve, called Glaucoma.

Glaucoma is generally caused by a build-up of pressure within the eye itself, causing cumulative cell damage to the optic nerve.

Around 2% of the UK's over 40-year-olds have glaucoma of varying degrees, but 50% of these are not diagnosed and face the risk of irreversible vision loss. Glaucoma must be caught early in order to prevent debilitating problems, but because so few of us are aware that we are at risk we don't have our eyes checked out regularly enough. If left untreated, glaucoma leads inevitably to permanent damage of the optic nerve and therefore loss of of vision that can progress to complete blindness.

Although heightened pressure within the eye is the most significant risk factor for developing glaucoma, there is no fixed level at which this pressure begins to cause glaucoma and blindness. So one person may develop nerve damage from very little pressure within their eye, while another may be able to tolerate much higher levels of pressure without any noticeable damage whatsoever.

The reason why glaucoma often escapes diagnosis (until it is too late of course) is because it very rarely causes any discomfort to those suffering from it, nor indeed does it have any other noticeable symptoms. To complicate matters further, if one eye starts to fail because of glaucoma the other eye and the brain tend to compensate, so there is often no detectable sight loss until it had progressed quite far and sufferers begin to notice blind spots in their vision, resulting in stumbles and falls or even driving accidents.

Although glaucoma damage cannot be reversed yet by medical science, it CAN be slowed and even stopped, so early treatment of the condition is vital.

Experts recommend that everyone over the age of 40 should have biannual ophthalmoscopy, tonometry and perimetry tests - the three tests for glaucoma - regardless of whether they think they need the tests or not.

With the risk of stating the obvious, loss of vision is a life changing debilitation and if it is preventable then we should do all we can to catch potential problems before they take off.

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