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Catching the “sneak thief of sight”

Prof Crowston pointing to eye diagramGlaucoma is one of the most common causes of irreversible blindness in Australia, affecting 300,000 people – and half of them do not know that they have it.

Dubbed the “sneak thief of sight”, glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases where the optic nerve at the back of the eye slowly degenerates. There are often no symptoms until the patient loses his or her vision, at which stage the damage has already been done.

During World Glaucoma Week (March 9 -15), experts are urging all Australians to book a full eye exam with their eye care professional, especially if you are over the age of 40, or if you have a family history of glaucoma.

“A family history of the disease increases your risk of glaucoma ten-fold,” says Professor Jonathan Crowston, Managing Director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).

“Glaucoma can be tricky to diagnose, and measuring eye pressure is not enough. For my patients, I usually recommend a thorough examination that measures:

•    shape of the optic nerve
•    assessment of the field of vision
•    an eye pressure check (this alone is not enough to diagnose glaucoma accurately)
•    the angle where the iris meets the cornea in the eye.

“Right now, we can’t restore sight once it has been lost to glaucoma. But there are treatments to slow the progression of the disease and preserve sight, provided the condition has been diagnosed early enough.”

The Glaucoma Research team at CERA is working on the development of new, more effective and less invasive treatments. They are also looking to create better tools to diagnose glaucoma more reliably and earlier to improve the chances of saving sight.