The team behind World Glaucoma Week (12-18 Mar) is hoping to change the status quo with a global awareness campaign that encourages people to undergo regular eye checks.Chair of the World Glaucoma Week Committee, Dr Ivan Goldberg, said a common the of the campaign would once again be encouraging first degree relatives (FDRs) to get checked.“While anyone has a 2.3% lifetime risk of glaucoma, those with a FDR have a ten-fold increase in that risk. So, making FDRs aware of the need for glaucoma optic nerve testing and making diagnosed glaucoma patients aware of the need to inform their FDRs of this risk, is likely to save a great deal of sight,” he said.“Newsletters and social media posts will provide ideas you might find useful when you arrange a project in your neighbourhood and will yield us a network in which we are all able to inspire and guide one another as we share our goals and our strategies. By sharing successes as well as less successful ventures, we should be able to learn from one another and to be even more effective to reach our goal: elimination of glaucoma blindness.”The ‘silent thief’ is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, however, Professor Jonothon Crowston, managing director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) said they were making progress in combating the disease.“Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve which is the only part of the brain that can be clearly seen and it causes the cables in the nerve to die off quicker than they should. Our research is looking at new treatments to make the optic nerve more robust,” he said.
“Exercise may play a role in protecting the optic nerve, and a recent study has shown promising results for B3 – a vitamin available over the counter. The key risk factors are; genetic, you can get it from your family; high-eye pressure is somewhat of a risk but the main risk is getting older.”Diagnostic processes have improved over the years and, as 80-90% of sufferers have no easily recognisable symptoms, Crowston said getting an eye test was crucial to effectively managing the disease.“For most types of glaucoma, you can have moderate to advanced disease and still not be aware you have it. The astounding fact is our brains are very good at filling in the picture, even when 80-90% of your visual field is lost,” he said.“Every month I see patients in the advanced stages of the disease who are much harder to treat than the patients who are diagnosed early. You are at elevated risk if you have a family history or elevated eye pressure but we can stop it if caught early enough.”