Early Detection Key in Prevention of Glaucoma-Related Sight Loss
Regular Eye Tests the Only Way to Detect ‘Symptomless’ Glaucoma in Early Stages
World Glaucoma Week, March 7th - 13th, 2021
Often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’, glaucoma is essentially symptomless at early stages and the only way to detect it is through regular eye examinations, a spokesperson for the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO), the training and professional body for eye doctors in Ireland, stated today.
Marking World Glaucoma Week, which runs from 7th -13th March 2021, Eye Surgeon and Glaucoma Specialist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, Ms. Aoife Doyle said;
“The importance of having a regular routine eye exam to help prevent avoidable glaucoma-related vision loss cannot be over-emphasised. Often the early signs of glaucoma are picked up during a routine, spectacle prescription eye check up with an optometrist and a referral will be made for the individual to be seen by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for a full comprehensive eye examination so a diagnosis can be made."
Ms. Doyle, who specialises in the medical and surgical treatment of glaucoma patients in Ireland explains, “With glaucoma, vision loss progresses at such a gradual rate that people affected by the condition are often unaware of it until their sight has already been compromised. It is crucial that people remember that once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored, however, with early diagnosis and careful regular observation and treatment, damage can usually be kept to a minimum, and good vision can be enjoyed indefinitely. The test to detect the condition is non-invasive and gives an immediate result."
Prevalence and Risk Factors
Glaucoma is an increasingly, significant cause of preventable blindness in the western world. It is estimated that 3% of people over 50 in Ireland has glaucoma. Glaucoma in over 50s in Ireland is expected to increase in prevalence by 33% in the coming decade, linked to the forecasted increase in our ageing population as projected by the Central Statistics Office.
Those most at risk of developing glaucoma are people over 60, people with a family history of the disease and individuals of African and Hispanic descent.
Ms. Doyle says, “There are different types of glaucoma and some people are at greater risk and may need to see their eye doctor on a more frequent basis. People of African origin are more at risk of developing glaucoma and of developing it at a younger age. For this reason, regular comprehensive eye exams to catch symptoms early are essential.”
Most Common Form of Glaucoma and Recommended Preventative Measures
Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma, occurs when tissue in the eye gradually becomes less efficient at draining fluid. As this happens, eye pressure rises, causing irreparable damage to the optic nerve. Without proper treatment to halt the nerve damage, open-angle glaucoma patients usually lose peripheral (side) vision first, and then they may eventually go blind. Fortunately, most vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented with early detection and regular medical intervention.
The Irish College of Ophthalmologists recommend that all adults have a baseline, comprehensive dilated eye exam by the age of 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to happen. The exam, which includes an eye pressure check, may also require a visual field examination, as determined by an eye doctor.
For people age 60 and older, the ICO recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every 1-2 years, or as directed by their GP, optometrist or eye doctor.
To learn more information about glaucoma or to get eye health advice, visit the Irish College of Ophthalmologists website at www.eyedoctors.ie
How to make an appointment to see an Eye Doctor
If you have a concern about your eye health it is important to have your eyes examined by an eye doctor. For an appointment to see any medical specialist working in the HSE, including eye doctors, you need to get a referral from your General Practitioner (GP). A GP has knowledge of the specialists in his/her area and can ensure that any important information relating to your medical history is passed to the eye doctor.
While it is advisable to seek a referral from your GP many eye doctors working in the community will give you an appointment directly - see eye doctors in Ireland for a directory.
Important Advice for the Public and Eye Care Patients during COVID-19
The ICO continues to follow the national guidance and direction as instructed by the Department of Health, HSE and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and all hospitals are acting in accordance with these guidelines in order to minimise the risk of infection spread.
While certain elective and routine ophthalmology work has been postponed at this time, it is important that you contact your eye doctor or seek medical advice if or any of your family members experience sudden vision loss, change or significant pain in your eye.
Measures are in place in ophthalmology hospital departments to triage patients and to ensure that urgent ophthalmic patients can be seen.
Community ophthalmologists are seeing patients whose clinical need has been triaged as necessary in a safe environment. All COVID-19 precautions are being taken and any patient or parent of a patient should contact their clinic as necessary.
Further information and guidance on COVID-19 measures provided to the public from trusted, official sources are available on the our site here
Ms. Aoife Doyle is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Glaucoma Specialist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital and St. James’s Hospital, Dublin.
7th March 2021