About four percent of Singapore’s population suffers from glaucoma, yet the disease causes about 40 percent of all cases of blindness in the country. One of the primary reasons glaucoma is associated with a high level of vision loss is that the disease can be very hard to detect until permanent vision loss is already occurring. In fact, one study found that as many as 90 percent of cases go undetected. That’s because glaucoma can occur and progress without causing any noticeable warning symptoms until vision loss is already taking place. In fact, the disease has become so notorious for being hard to detect until it begins to rob people of their vision, it’s earned the nickname of “silent thief.”
There are two primary types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma is by far the more prevalent of the two, and occurs more slowly than angle-closure glaucoma, where vision loss is rapid. Both types occur because fluid that naturally collects inside the eye no longer drains properly, resulting in increased pressure. When eye pressure is elevated, the fibres of the optic nerve located at the back of your eye become squeezed and permanently damaged. As a result, those fibres are no longer able to send signals to the brain, where they would normally be are interpreted as the images we see. Vision loss due to glaucoma typically occurs first at the outer edges of your field of vision, spreading inward and creating a tunnel-like effect.
Since most people who have glaucoma may not know they have it, it’s also important to know the risk factors that can contribute to the disease. These include:
- family history of glaucoma
- older age (the risk increases with age)
- extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
- high blood pressure
- injury to the eye
- use of certain medications including steroids
The best way to detect glaucoma is with regular eye exams. During the exam, the eye doctor will use a special test that measures the pressure inside your eye (your intraocular pressure). Your optic nerve will also be evaluated. When pressure is elevated, your doctor may prescribe special eye drops pr other medication to help lower the pressure. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to preserve your sight.
Glaucoma is a serious condition that can be successfully treated, but only if it’s caught early. See your eye doctor for regular exams and screenings that can help reduce your risk.