Glaucoma: A growing concern
() - March 22, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Glaucoma is a complicated disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss.

Most interesting, around 70 million people worldwide already have this condition due in part to the rapidly aging population, according to a data provided by the Glaucoma Research Foundation of the United States.

Glaucoma is a condition that affects the eye’s optic nerve, a bundle of tissue that carries information about what one sees from the eyes to your brain. This damage is usually — but not always — caused by the build-up of naturally produced fluid within the eye. When the fluid cannot escape, the resulting pressure build-up causes the optic nerve to deteriorate, resulting in vision loss and irreversible blindness.

In fact, by 2020, it is estimated that 11.2 million individuals will be blind in both eyes from this condition, according to professor Harry Quigley and Aimee Broman of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

In the Philippines, glaucoma has been ranked as the leading cause of blindness in both eyes. There are currently no reliable estimates as to how many Filipinos have the disease.

In most cases, glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, and without symptoms — only half of those who are actually diagnosed with glaucoma have any symptoms at all. Symptoms related to loss of vision or reduced vision in a person with glaucoma already indicates advanced disease.

There are several types of glaucoma presenting with a variety of symptoms. The most common types of glaucoma called primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma may have completely different symptoms.

Primary open-angle glaucoma is generally quiet in terms of symptoms. There is a gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes. Noticeable tunnel vision only occurs in the advanced stages.

For acute angle-closure glaucoma, one should watch out for the occurrence of severe eye pain; nausea and vomiting (accompanying the severe eye pain); sudden onset of blurred vision; halos around lights; and reddening of the eye.

In fact, majority of the patients who are elderly individuals often attribute their loss of vision to just growing old, which is not always the case.

But while vision loss from glaucoma is silent, slow, progressive and irreversible, one should realize that it is treatable and that glaucoma blindness may be prevented. Glaucoma can be controlled, especially when detected early.

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens although the disease is far more common among the elderly. It is therefore important to have regular eye examinations by a medical professional, especially if one is over the age of 40.

The risk of developing glaucoma increases if one is found to have high eye pressure (as measured in a routine eye examination), a family history of glaucoma, aged over 45, have previous eye injury, chronic steroid use, and diabetes mellitus, and of Asian descent.

During a glaucoma screening exam, the eye doctor will look inside the eye for signs of damage to the optic nerve. In addition, the doctor will gauge the fluid pressure inside the eyes with an instrument called a tonometer, which either rests against the eye’s (numbed) surface or sends a puff of air onto the cornea. The adequacy of the eye’s fluid drainage channels is also assessed (gonioscopy). Other tests that may be included are those that measure one’s peripheral vision (perimetry) and visual acuity.

To tackle this growing problem, the Philippine Glaucoma Society, an internationally recognized leader in providing quality glaucoma care in the Philippines through education, exchange of ideas, research and publication, partnered with multi-specialty health care company Allergan for glaucoma awareness activities during the celebration of World Glaucoma Week (March 12-16).

Numerous glaucoma forums for lay people as well as glaucoma screening activities were held in selected hospitals and eye centers nationwide.

In partnership with the medical community, Allergan brings scientific excellence and rigor to deliver leading products that addresses glaucoma.

Allergan goes above and beyond this to provide education and information with the highest level of integrity. This helps patients to fully understand the choices available to them and make well-informed treatment decisions with their doctors.

Despite the increasing worldwide prevalence of glaucoma, both the Philippine Glaucoma Society and Allergan believe that increasing glaucoma awareness will lead to early diagnosis and treatment and eventually a better chance of preventing blindness from the disease.

All these to achieve the Philippine Glaucoma Society’s vision — that no Filipino shall ever go blind from glaucoma.

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