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How glaucoma the ‘silent thief’ steals the sight of thousands of Australians every year

It is estimated that more than half of the 300,000 people who suffer from glaucoma in Australia are unaware they have the disease.

This week is World Glaucoma Week (12-18 March) and in a new podcast interview released today Professor Jonathan Crowston, Managing Director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), discusses new breakthroughs in the battle against the disease and the latest research being done at CERA.

“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. 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,” Professor Crowston says.

Getting an eye test is crucial as 80-90% of sufferers have no easily recognisable symptoms.

“High-eye pressure is often used as a screening tool but we know it’s a very poor indicator of glaucoma. If your optician or optometrist only measures your eye pressure the chances are it will be missed,” Professor Crowston says.

CERA runs laboratory and clinic-based research trying to understand why getting older pre-disposes us to developing glaucoma.

“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,” Professor Crowston says.

“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.

“Our research is looking at new treatments to make the optic nerve more robust.

“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,” Professor Crowston says.

To find out more, the Glaucoma Australia website is an excellent resource. Read the latest Glaucoma the silent thief factsheet on glaucoma which also provides interesting historical information about the disease.

CERA has a Glaucoma Community Forum on 8 June 10:30-12 noon at the Royal Australian College of Surgeons Level 2 Training Area, RACS, 250-290 Spring Street, East Melbourne.

Check CERA.org.au events

 


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