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Glaucoma — the silent eye disease — to affect 80 million people globally by 2020
NCBI joined forced with the Association of Optometrists Ireland, Irish College of Ophthalmologists and Pfizer Healthcare Ireland to call for greater awareness of glaucoma during World Glaucoma Week (7th – 13th March 2010) – as the prevalence of the eye condition in Ireland is expected to rise as the number of older people increases.
Glaucoma is a silent disease as there are no symptoms in the early stages and worryingly, around half of those living with glaucoma do not realise they have it.
Glaucoma is the name given to a series of devastating diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and effects peripheral, or side vision. Since vision loss is permanent, glaucoma needs to be diagnosed and appropriately treated as early as possible to prevent further damage.
Studies have shown that glaucoma is becoming increasingly more common in older people and, with the number of people aged over 65 in Ireland predicted to increase by almost two fifths by 2016, and to treble by 2041, it is vital that these are caught early.
In global terms, due to the world’s rapidly growing ageing population, the prevalence of glaucoma is expected to rise from 60 million in 2010 to 80 million in 2020.
To raise awareness of the condition among decision makers in Ireland, free glaucoma eye tests were offered to TDs, Senators and staff at Leinster House during World Glaucoma Week. Free glaucoma screening was also available at participating independent optometrists around the country for the week.
Consultant Ophthalmologist and Glaucoma Specialist at the Mater University Hospital, Dublin, Professor Colm O’Brien said that “the best way to manage glaucoma is to diagnose early”.
“The risk of developing glaucoma increases with age. The evidence indicates that if we can diagnose a patient in the early stage of the disease, then there is every-likelihood that treatment will prevent the condition from progressing. Most patients are well treated with eye-drops alone, though some may require laser or surgery to control the eye pressure. Regular eye examinations are vital to ensure eye conditions are identified early and appropriately managed”.
Glaucoma effects peripheral, or side vision and according to research, daily activities that can be difficult for glaucoma patients to manage include driving, locating items, walking on stairs and recognising faces, which can prohibit patients from maintaining the same level of freedom they experienced before the onset of the condition.
NCBI Chief Executive, Des Kenny said: “NCBI continues to see a steady number of people being referred to our services every year as a result of glaucoma, which is the leading cause of preventable blindness around the world. it is vital that we encourage people to take care of their eyesight by having regular eye exams, especially as our population is ageing and many eye conditions are more prevalent among older populations. If more people are diagnosed at an early stage and can receive treatment, we hope to see a decrease in the number of people facing reduced vision as a result of glaucoma.”
According to Lynda McGivney-Nolan, spokesperson for the Association of Optometrists, the test to detect glaucoma is quick but could save your sight.
“It is vitally important that people realise that early detection means early sight saving treatment and your optometrist is trained to detect signs of early glaucoma. The test is quick, painless and gives an immediate result. Our members are fully committed to contribute towards the push needed to reduce the numbers of people loosing their sight to glaucoma every year in Ireland.”
Since glaucoma may not demonstrate any early symptoms, it’s important to learn the risk factors and to discuss them with an eye health professional. The primary risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Increasing age
- Have a family history of glaucoma
- Have high intraocular pressure (IOP)
- Marked nearsightedness
- Are of African descent (open-angle glaucoma)
- Are of Asian descent (angle-closure glaucoma).