Older people might have glaucoma without realising, study warns

Glaucoma spells bad news for your vision as it can cause blindness by damaging the nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve, yet it doesn’t often show many warning signs.

A new study, published in the journal Acta Ophthalmologica, found that half of people with the eye condition were unaware they had it.

Recruiting 1,203 participants aged 70, the team from the University of Gothenburg instructed the participants to answer questions about their eye health and the presence of glaucoma in their family. 

The findings revealed that almost five percent of the participants had glaucoma, and half of those diagnosed were unaware that they had it.

Lena Havstam Johansson, who carried out the research, said: “Of those who were diagnosed with glaucoma via the study, 15 people – or 2.7 percent of all participants – were unaware that they had the disease before being examined.

“So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”

Worryingly, the eye condition that deals damage to the optic nerve often shows no warning signs.

During the early stages of the disease, the healthy eye can compensate for the loss of vision, leaving many people believing their vision is as good as before. 

The research team explained their findings confirm that glaucoma often doesn’t initially involve a loss of visual acuity, making it harder to detect the disease.

The NHS explains that once symptoms appear, they may include blurred vision or seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights.

Glaucoma tends to target both of your eyes but it might seem like one eye is worse.

Occasionally, the eye condition can cause the following symptoms:

  • Intense eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Red eye
  • Headache
  • Tenderness around the eyes
  • Seeing rings around lights
  • Blurred vision.

While symptoms don’t always rear their ugly heads, the new study confirmed that there are hereditary factors behind the disease.

Those diagnosed with glaucoma were more likely to have a close relative with the same diagnosis. 

Therefore, you should closely monitor your risk if you have any family members with the common eye condition.

The researchers explained it’s crucial to identify glaucoma early so you can start treatment with daily eye drops that lower the pressure in the eye and slow down the damage to the optic nerve.

The good news is that the study participants with glaucoma rated their overall quality of life just as good as the other participants.

Johansson said: “This was a positive surprise, and was a finding that I hope can bring comfort to many people who have been diagnosed with glaucoma. It’s hard to live with a disease that gradually impairs vision, but life can still be good in many ways.”

However, they also reported that their vision-related quality of life was poorer.

The researcher added: “It’s harder to climb stairs, see curbs in the evening, and notice things in your peripheral vision. This means that people with glaucoma may avoid visiting others, or going to restaurants or parties, and instead stay at home. They lose their independence, and may feel frustrated about it.”


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