World Glaucoma Week (10 – 16 March 2024): Uniting for a Glaucoma Free World

This year, World Glaucoma Week will be observed from Sunday 3rd to Saturday 10th March and is themed Uniting for a Glaucoma Free World.

Causing damage to the optic nerve, glaucoma makes it more difficult for images captured by the eye to reach the brain.

If left untreated, it can lead to permanent vision loss and eventually, blindness.

According to the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), an estimated 300,000 Australians have glaucoma but around half those people don’t know they have the disease.

"Glaucoma is often termed the 'silent thief of sight’; the disease operates stealthily and frequently without noticeable symptoms. This is why during World Glaucoma Week it’s especially important to hold space for conversations separating fact and fiction that help demystify the condition,” said Luke Arundel, Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry.

“People with 20/20 vision can have glaucoma and not realise it as it tends to affect a patient’s side vision first.”

By dispelling the myths surrounding glaucoma, it not only helps to build better community awareness but also empowers individuals to prioritise and take proactive measures when it comes to their eye health and wellbeing.

Myth 1: Glaucoma is a single disease

Glaucoma is not a solitary entity but rather a group of eye conditions. The primary types include open-angle glaucoma (OAG) and angle-closure glaucoma (ACG).

“In OAG, the drainage structure within the eye remains open but encounters resistance, hindering fluid outflow and resulting in increased intraocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. This form progresses slowly and often without symptoms until significant damage occurs.”

“ACG, on the other hand, arises when drainage flow is obstructed, leading to fluid buildup and elevated eye pressure. Symptoms may include eye pain, nausea, and vision halos and can develop suddenly or gradually.”

Myth 2: Glaucoma only affects the elderly

While older age is a risk factor, glaucoma can strike at any age due to various factors including genetics, ethnicity, past eye injuries and certain medical conditions.

"From congenital cases in newborns and babies to secondary forms stemming from various eye conditions in children and adults alike, the spectrum of those who can be affected by glaucoma is diverse. Conditions like uveitis can pave the way for secondary glaucoma, while lesser-known types like pigmentary glaucoma may emerge in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50."

In addition to age, those with a higher risk of developing glaucoma include:

  • People with a family history of glaucoma
  • Those who have previously sustained an eye injury
  • People taking steroid medications over the long term
  • People with diabetes, sickle cell anaemia and cardiovascular disease

Myth 3: Glaucoma testing is painful

Testing for glaucoma is practically painless.

“One of the tests includes a device that blows a gentle puff of air into each eye to test the intraocular pressure. While the sound of the puff may be startling, it’s over in a second and is painless. The Goldmann applanation tonometry test uses an anaesthetic eye drop that is applied to both eyes. These drops may cause a stinging sensation for only a few seconds. Afterwards an eye doctor will use a blue light to gently and quickly touch the cornea to get a precise measurement of intraocular pressure.”

However, the most accurate of all glaucoma screening tests are optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging and visual field testing which are non-invasive and painless tests.

Myth 4: Once you have glaucoma, nothing can be done

While currently there’s no cure for glaucoma, many effective treatment options exist including eye drops, a specialised laser procedure, surgery and oral medications.

“Each treatment option decreases damage to the optic nerve by reducing pressure inside the eye.”

Once diagnosed with glaucoma, a person may need treatment for life. Sometimes, eye drops alone will not control the damage to the optic nerve and laser treatment or surgery is needed.

Myth 5: Glaucoma can’t be prevented

Undergoing regular eye exams are the only way to prevent glaucoma, as significant vision loss or blindness can be prevented if glaucoma is diagnosed and treated in its early stages.

That’s why routine comprehensive eye exams including glaucoma testing are so important.

“It is recommended that every Australian, from the time they start primary school, pay their optometrist a visit every year until age 18, then every two years as an adult, and then yearly again after turning 65, for a comprehensive eye examination.”

Fast facts about glaucoma:

  • An estimated 300,000 Australians have glaucoma but around half those people don’t know they have the disease, which is why the disease is referred to as the “silent thief of sight”
  • Your family history could affect your risk of developing glaucoma
  • People of African, Caribbean or Asian descent are at a higher risk
  • Scientists have found that omega-3s may help battle the low-grade inflammation that’s thought to play a role in glaucoma and bolster visual acuity and visual field
  • Eye tests for glaucoma are quick and painless
  • Glaucoma can affect anyone at any age
  • Glaucoma Australia was established in 1986 to support the needs of glaucoma patients across Australia. Its purpose is to improve the lives of people with glaucoma and those at risk, by increasing early detection and positive treatment outcomes through education, advocacy and research

Aussies can use our Find an Optometrist search tool to book an appointment with their nearest optometrist today.

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