Many vision problems that occur later in life can be avoided with early, and often quite simple, preventative measures. World Retina Week takes place this week (23 to 29 September), and Retina South Africa urges all South Africans to protect their vision by having regular eye check-ups. Smoking, overexposure to sunlight, poor diet and a lack of physical fitness all contribute to the loss of vision. RSA urges South Africans to go for regular eye tests, regulate their life style, to contact Retina South Africa and to support research to treat retinal blindness. A condition such as glaucoma is asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease, but a simple visit to an ophthalmologist will identify high pressure in the vitreous while it is still treatable. What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a chronic progressive disease that can cause blindness if not treated in time. It occurs when the nerves cannot handle the pressure in the eye and therefore sustain permanent damage. Normal pressure is usually between 12 mmHg to 21 mmHg. However, a high pressure alone does not necessarily mean that you have glaucoma. Some people’s nerves can handle a pressure higher than 21mmHg without being damaged, while others show damage even with normal pressures.It is important to visit an ophthalmologist on a regular basis, so that tests can be done to determine whether or not the nerves show damage. These tests can determine your peripheral vision and measure the thickness of the retinal nerve fibre layer. These tests are also used to monitor the condition’s progression.Different types of glaucoma exist, each with their own causes, symptoms and treatment modalities. Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common. Who can get glaucoma? Anyone can develop glaucoma, but people with a family history, as well as those older than 40, have a higher risk. Patients who suffer from diabetes or are near-sighted also have an increased risk. What are the symptoms? In the case of primary open angle glaucoma, the patient does not experience any symptoms in the beginning stages. Vision is normal and there is no pain. However, visual loss then starts on the sides and spreads to the centre, leading to tunnel vision and, eventually, blindness. What is the treatment? The damage that has been done to the nerve is permanent. With the correct treatment, however, one can delay any further visual loss.The first-line treatment is eyedrops. These should be used daily to control the pressure. There are different types of drops available and your ophthalmologist will determine which one is best for your eyes. It may be necessary to use more than one type of eyedrops.If the drops alone are not adequate, other options, such as laser treatment or surgery, are available (for example laser treatment or surgery). These options will be discussed with you by your ophthalmologist should the need arise. How should I use my eyedrops? It is imperative to use the eyedrops exactly as prescribed. Do not miss a dose and try to use it at approximately the same time each day. Using the drops more than prescribed will not decrease the pressure further.Remember to use the drops on the day of your follow-up visits, so that your ophthalmologist can determine whether the drops are effective. If you see that your drops are almost finished, make sure that you go to your pharmacy in time to refill your prescription. Can glaucoma be prevented? Unfortunately, nothing can prevent this condition. Visiting your ophthalmologist on a regular basis, however, can help to detect glaucoma early. When treatment is started at an early stage, loss of sight can be limited. To control glaucoma successfully, you need to work closely with your ophthalmologist to monitor your pressure and the function of your nerve on a regular basis and adjust your treatment regime accordingly. Your responsibility is to use your drops as prescribed and to strictly adhere to your follow up appointments. It is recommended that everyone older than 40 should visit an ophthalmologist to screen for glaucoma. For more information, contact any of the ophthalmologists at the Pasteur Eye Hospital.