Glaucoma is a serious condition where the optic nerve is damaged due to increased pressure in the eye – it can lead to blindness. However, despite the serious nature of the condition, it seems people are still largely uninformed about glaucoma. Here are five of the top myths and misperceptions about glaucoma.
Myth 1: Glaucoma is a rare condition
Actually it’s quite the contrary. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts, according to the World Health Organisation. “Around three to five percent of people depending on risk factors, geographical location and ethnic group, will develop glaucoma in their lifetime,” says Dr Petrus Gous from the Pretoria Eye Institute.
Glaucoma is a chronic condition and current treatments can only help prevent, control or slow the process to such a degree that most patients don’t suffer from significant loss of vision.
However, once damage has occurred it can’t be reversed. “It's very important to diagnose glaucoma as soon as possible in the course of the disease to prevent any further ongoing damage,” stresses Dr Gous.
Myth 3: Only old people get glaucoma
While the risk of glaucoma increases with age, especially for those older than 70, everyone young and old are at risk. In fact, a type of glaucoma called primary congenital glaucoma can affect children from birth to three years.
Glaucoma can actually be more dangerous when you’re young, says Dr Gous. “The earlier the onset of glaucoma, the more aggressive it is and the more damaging.”
Myth 4: If your eyesight is normal and you have no symptoms, you can’t have glaucoma
Even if you have 20/20 vision, there is a chance you might have glaucoma without even realising it. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma in the world, is painless, and tends to develop over a long period affecting peripheral vision at first. Symptoms usually only start showing when the condition is quite advanced.
“Don’t wait for deteriorating vision to go for a glaucoma screening. By that time you would have permanently lost significant visual field!” urges Dr Gous.
Myth 5: Only people who wear glasses can get glaucoma
Some research suggests that people who are nearsighted (myopia) or farsighted (hyperopia) may be at greater risk of developing glaucoma, and so they're encouraged to have more frequent eye tests. However, the truth is anyone can get glaucoma, whether you have to wear glasses or not. In fact, factors like age, gender, race and heredity, may also influence your risk of getting glaucoma, making regular eye tests important for everyone.
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