News

World glaucoma week focuses on eye testing


8 March 2011

People over 40 and those with a family history of glaucoma should have regular eye exams to check for signs of the disease.
People over 40 and those with a family history of glaucoma should have regular eye exams to check for signs of the disease.

More than half of Australia's glaucoma cases remain undiagnosed according to University of Sydney Professor of Ophthalmology, Paul Healey. The alarming statistic underpins this year's World Glaucoma Week and confirms the perils of driving with the condition and the need for regular eye tests.

Professor Paul Healey, who is director of Glaucoma Research at the Westmead Millennium Institute (Department of Ophthalmology, University of Sydney) said drivers with glaucoma have reduced peripheral vision which may prevent them from seeing cars close to them when pulling in or out of traffic or when overtaking.

"Side vision loss, sensitivity to lights such as sunlight or night time headlight glare, blurred vision and an increase in near-miss crashes are all warning signals that should prompt the individual to seek professional help to evaluate their ability to drive responsibly," says Healey.

Professor Healey who has been at the helm of the glaucoma research component of the Blue Mountains Eye Study (BMES), a longitudinal population-based study in ophthalmology, said the study has found that only half of the cases with signs of glaucoma have previously been diagnosed. The BMES had also confirmed many risk factors for the disease.

"Your chances of having glaucoma increase dramatically with age. But having a family history of glaucoma say your parents or siblings increases your risk three-fold," Healey said.

"Our research has also identified other systemic factors including diabetes and high blood pressure."

Professor Healey stresses that there are other important eye signs which signal a likelihood of an increased risk of finding glaucoma including elevated eye pressure, myopia or short-sightedness, asymmetry between the two optic nerves, and an appearance of atrophy around the nerve.

According to Glaucoma Australia, glaucoma is the second leading worldwide cause of irreversible blindness. Described by experts as the 'silent thief of sight', glaucoma, if neglected, is a devastating condition that robs individuals of their quality of life.

Activities like driving, locating items, walking on stairs and recognising faces can be difficult for glaucoma patients to manage.

Glaucoma Australia is encouraging all Australians during World Glaucoma Week, especially those aged 40 and over or those who have a family history of glaucoma, to have regular eye exams to check for signs of the disease. Glaucoma Australia provides extensive information and offers support to those with glaucoma, their family and carers.


Interview contact: Professor Paul Healey, 0412 666 995


Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick, 0401 711 361, 9351 2579, victoria.hollick@sydney.edu.au