The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Glaucoma is not curable because the damage to the optic nerve caused by this condition is already permanent. The optic nerve is the cable-like tissue that connects the eye to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, the patient’s visual field shrinks and eventually leads to irreversible bilateral blindness.
“The challenge lie in diagnosing early,” expressed the ophthalmologists who were present during a press conference held in Shangri-la Makati last March 7.
Glaucoma is a silent disease and remains to be under-diagnosed because of low patient awareness. In addition, there is no single diagnostic test to determine if a person really has glaucoma. Trained eye specialists still have to consolidate clinical examination findings with functional vision tests in order to assess the patient’s glaucoma risk. But, when a diagnosis is made, regular and life-long follow-up is necessary to adequately monitor the disease.
Who are at risk or have a higher chance of developing glaucoma? The eye doctors shared that they are those who:
- Have high eye pressure (as measured in a routine eye exam)
- Have a family history of glaucoma
- Are over 45 years old
- Have previous eye injury
- Are chronic steroid users
- Have diabetes mellitus (type 2)
- Are of Asian descent
The experts believe that once vision becomes blurry and pain is already felt in the eye/s, it’s time to consult an ophthalmologist/eye doctor immediately. One common problem though is that many Filipinos lack the proper know how about glaucoma which rarely has warning signs. In fact, up to 40% of vision can disappear without one realizing it. This loss of vision, while avoidable through early diagnosis, is permanent once it presents itself.
Right now, no cure has been found yet for glaucoma. However, blindness caused by this condition can be prevented as long as it is detected at an early stage. There are treatments available such as medicine or surgery which can slow down the progression of vision loss.
Doctors stressed that the only way glaucoma can be detected is through regular comprehensive eye exams that should begin after reaching the age of 40.
Since there are several types of glaucoma, people should know that these also have different symptoms. For instance, for primary open-angle glaucoma, one should be alerted of the gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes. Tunnel vision only occurs in the advanced stages. On the other hand, for acute angle-closure glaucoma, one should watch out for the occurrence of severe eye pain that may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting; sudden onset of blurred vision; halos around lights; as well as reddening of the eye.
To help address this critical situation, the Philippine Glaucoma Society in partnership with multi-specialty health care company, Allergan, has organized glaucoma awareness activities during World Glaucoma Week to be held this coming March 12 to 16. There will be glaucoma forums for lay people as well as glaucoma screening activities in selected hospitals and eye centers nationwide to examine the misperceptions and behaviors that often stand in the way of optimal diagnosis and care.