With the number of people living with glaucoma in the UK expected to increase by almost a third between 2020 and 2035, Glaucoma UK is urging people to get their eyes tested.
As part of Glaucoma Awareness Week 2022, which will run from 27 June to 3 July, the charity is highlighting the importance of regular eye tests with the aim of ending preventable glaucoma sight loss.
Glaucoma is the name of a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for transferring visual information from the eye to the brain. Damage to the optic nerve can result in sight loss and even blindness. Over 700,000 people in the UK have glaucoma, and half of them don’t know they have it. Anyone can develop the disease, though some people are at higher risk, including those with a family history of glaucoma. The disease is fairly rare for most people below the age of 40, but the risk rises over the age of 40 and continues to increase as we get older. One in 10 people aged 75 or over are affected by glaucoma. People of African-Caribbean origin are also four times more likely to develop the disease than people of European origin.
Glaucoma can be symptomless, meaning a large percent of the peripheral vision can sometimes be lost without even noticing, due to the brain filling in any gaps in vision. For most people, the signs of glaucoma are first spotted at a routine eye test. However, research has shown that, despite sight being the sense that people fear losing the most, nearly a third of the adult population in the UK are not having an eye test every two years, as is generally recommended by healthcare professionals.
Dr Susan Blakeney, Optometrist and Glaucoma UK Trustee, said, “Eye examinations, commonly known as eye tests, aren’t just about how well you can see, or whether you need glasses. During an eye examination your optometrist will look at the health of your eyes too. Diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and even diabetes may be detected during a routine eye examination. Glaucoma normally causes gradual sight loss which you won’t notice in the early stages. This sight loss cannot be reversed. It is therefore important for most people to get their eyes examined at least every two years, even if they are not having any problems with their sight, to detect signs of glaucoma early and reduce the chance of further sight loss.”
Frances Baillie, from Paisley in Scotland, was diagnosed with glaucoma following a routine eye test. Thankfully, her early diagnosis meant that she was able to start treatment before there was any noticeable damage to her sight. “I was surprised when I was diagnosed with glaucoma because I had no idea there was anything wrong” says Frances. “I was lucky to be diagnosed and treated in the early stages because it’s meant that my glaucoma has had very little impact on my life. I would urge anyone to make an appointment for a check-up, even if you don’t wear glasses or only wear them for reading. If they find a problem then it means it can be dealt with at an earlier stage, and it could prevent sight loss.”
Glaucoma UK’s Chief Executive, Joanne Creighton, added, “This Glaucoma Awareness Week, we want people to put their sight in the spotlight by encouraging them to get their eyes regularly tested. With an ageing population and modern technology making earlier detection possible, more and more of us will find ourselves affected by glaucoma. If you are living with or have recently been diagnosed with the disease, Glaucoma UK is here to support you.”
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