Annually, between 7 and 13 March, World Glaucoma Awareness Week is observed.
The aim is to raise awareness of glaucoma and the effect it has on eyesight with the 2021 theme “The World is Bright, Save your Sight”.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that are caused by damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is very important as it carries sight images to the brain. It can be damaged by too much pressure inside the eye. Though glaucoma can be treated (if diagnosed early) to prevent blindness, the condition can’t be cured.
To maintain a constant healthy eye pressure, the eye continually produces a small amount of this fluid and an equal amount which flows out of the eye. If someone has glaucoma the fluid does not flow properly through the drainage system.
Fluid pressure in the eye increases, and this extra force presses on the optic nerve in the back of the eye, causing damage to the nerve fibres. Glaucoma can cause blindness if not treated early.
As with many eye and vision problems, glaucoma has no obvious early signs or symptoms, so people are often unaware of the problem. Visible symptoms only occur after the nerve fibres have been irreversibly damaged and permanent vision impairment occurs.
According to Dr Wim Schoonbee, ophthalmic medical officer for the Overberg, glaucoma is normally associated with age and family history.
“People over the age of 45 with a family history should ensure they have their eye pressure and visual fields tested biannually,” he said. “Often people assume their eyes and vision are still in good condition because they can still read but they are not aware that their visual fields are still shrinking.
“If you have experienced any form of eye injury or blunt trauma to the eye it is also important to have your eye pressure and visual fields regularly checked after an injury took place.”
When diagnosed with glaucoma ongoing management is required to reduce the risk of further progression through several possible treatment options, including therapeutic eye drops, surgery, or a combination of these. The most common treatment is eye drops which assist in relieving the pressure in the eye.
For Sr Alinda Otto, a clinical nurse practitioner working in ophthalmology in the Overberg, general eye health from an early age is essential.
“My biggest tip is to reduce your screen time, especially for children under the age of six whose eyes are still developing,” she said. “It may be a form of easy entertainment but will affect their far-sighted vision and have other effects at an older age.”
Anybody who experiences a sudden loss of vision, decrease in vision, blurry vision, the formation of halos around lights, difficulty focusing on distant or near objects should visit their nearest health facility immediately for an eye test.
“You need to respect the importance of your sight,” she said, “if you experience any trauma to the eye which can occur during a physical fight or an accident please have your eye checked, and do not wait until it is too late.”
Early detection of glaucoma and medication compliance can prevent blindness.