It may be surprising to some that glaucoma is actually one of the biggest causes of blindness in the world. In fact, it affects more than 64 million people worldwide but many don’t even realise they have it due to the gradual onset nature of the condition. Furthermore, recent survey* results from Specsavers and the International Glaucoma Association (IGA) show that more than one in seven people have a family history of glaucoma.
To mark World Glaucoma Week (March 8-14) Specsavers stores across London are trying to raise awareness of the common eye condition known as the ‘silent thief’ by sharing some unusual facts and ways that can help and hinder it.
We’re all guilty of googling our symptoms but with glaucoma being symptomless, it’s important to understand what the condition is before you start worrying. What’s more, the survey* results show that nearly a fifth of the nation has never even heard of glaucoma. Unhar Gupta, divisional chair for Specsavers in London says: ‘Glaucoma occurs when naturally-occurring fluid inside the eye does not drain properly, causing a build-up of pressure. The condition often affects both eyes, usually to varying degrees, however, there are two types - chronic glaucoma which develops slowly with subtle changes to your vision, and acute glaucoma which develops rapidly with a sudden, painful build-up of pressure in the eye.’
Let’s get physical
While caffeine can raise eye pressure, some studies indicate that regular exercise can lower it. While there is no evidence to prove this can directly prevent glaucoma, it does support overall eye health and that can only be a good thing. The UK needs to step up its exercise too, one in five admitted to exercising once a year or less*.
People of black-African origin are at higher risk of glaucoma
Glaucoma strikes earlier and progresses faster in men and women of black-African or black-Caribbean origin and occurs about five times more often.The risk for glaucoma is 20% higher if the disease is in your family and blindness is about six times more common. Karen Osborn Chief Executive of the International Glaucoma Association (IGA) adds: ‘There are several factors which could make you more at risk of developing glaucoma such as family history of the disease. Those who have black–African heritage or who have higher levels of short sightedness are also more at risk. Your age also plays a big part. Two in every 100 people over 40 are affected by the condition’.
Be a fighter and put down the lighter
While many people know that smoking is bad for your health (ie. Cancer), some don’t know that smoking can have a detrimental impact on our eyes, it can cause a plethora of complications and even increase the risk of glaucoma. Unhar Gupta adds, ’ While there is no evidence that smoking itself is a risk factor for glaucomatous damage, older smokers do have a higher risk of developing increased eye pressure compared to non-smokers.’
Lots of celebrities have glaucoma
There are many high profile stars who live with the condition. U2 singer Bono revealed in 2014 that he has had glaucoma for 20 years and is receiving ongoing treatment. Astronaut John Glenn nearly lost his sight to it and campaigned in the early 2000s, urging people to get regular eye tests. Other celebrities known to have had glaucoma are Whoopi Goldberg, Dame Maggie Smith and Andrea Bocelli.
Group Two drivers (those who drive lorries and buses) need to advise the DVLA even if they have glaucoma in just one eye, as tests are more stringent for commercial drivers. For Group One drivers (cars and motorcycles), the DVLA only needs to be advised of glaucoma when it affects both eyes.
43% of the UK public do not know if they’re eligible for a free eye test* so its essential people are aware they should be visiting their optometrist every two years. For further information or to book an eye test visit your local Specsavers store.
* Censuswide carried out a survey on 2009 people in February 2020 on behalf of Specsavers and IGA.