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Facts & FAQs

Facts

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide

  • Approximately 300,000 Australians have glaucoma
  • 50% of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed
  • Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. Approximately 10% of people in Australia with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience significant vision loss
  • Currently there is no cure for glaucoma

Anyone can develop glaucoma

  1. In Australia, 2-3% of the total population will develop glaucoma.
  2. First degree relatives of people with glaucoma have an almost 1 in 4 chance of developing glaucoma in their own lifetime.
  3. Older people are at a higher risk and one in eight Australians over 80 will develop glaucoma.
  4. Approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in Australia has glaucoma and children and young adults can develop glaucoma as well.
  5. About 1 in 200 Australians have glaucoma at age 40.

There may be no warning symptoms.

  • In the early stages of glaucoma there are virtually no symptoms or warning signs. There is usually no pain and a significant amount of peripheral or side vision can be lost before a person with glaucoma may notice.
  • The best way to protect sight from glaucoma damage is to have regular eye tests, which include an optic nerve check.
  • Early detection and adherence to treatment are vital to slow glaucoma progression.

Frequently Asked Questions

On This Page

 

10 Most Commonly Asked Questions

Q: Am I at risk of developing glaucoma?
A: Yes, everybody is at risk of developing glaucoma: 2-3% of Australians will be affected by glaucoma in their lifetime. Some people have a higher risk, particularly those who:

  1. have a family history of glaucoma
  2. are over the age of 40
  3. have diabetes or migraines
  4. are short or long sighted
  5. take cortisone drugs (steroids)
  6. have had eye surgery or an eye injury
  7. Who is at risk?

Q: There’s glaucoma in my family – what does this mean for me?
A: If you have a direct family member with glaucoma (parent, sibling, or child), you are at increased risk of developing glaucoma yourself. This is because in many cases, glaucoma is an inherited (genetic) disease that is passed on within families. Regular visits to your eye health professional are recommended.

Q: Where should I go for a glaucoma test and how often should I be tested?
A: You should have your eyes tested at your optometrist (generally every 2-3 years) – ask for a glaucoma check. If further investigation is required, the optometrist may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).

Q: How do I find a glaucoma eye specialist?
A: Click here find an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) near you.

Q: I’ve just been diagnosed, what now?
A: You will usually have been recommended a course of treatment - eye drops are the most common form of treatment although laser and surgery are also used. Eye drops are to be instilled every day and depending on the eye drops prescribed, the dosage will be one (or more) drop(s) each day. In some cases more than one type of eye drop will be prescribed.

It is important to follow your treatment plan and appointments, as recommended by your doctor. This is because glaucoma is a life-long, often progressive condition, and appropriate treatment can prevent vision loss.

Read more about treatments
Read more about eye drops – what you should know
Read more about I have glaucoma

Q: I was told to use my eye drops every day and to make sure I did it at the same time each day. Why is that important?
A: The eye drops only work when they are being used – if you stop using them the eye pressure will increase again. Hence it is important to use them every day, otherwise the IOP will fluctuate. There is some evidence to suggest that fluctuations in IOP may be as harmful to the optic nerve as high IOP.

Using the drops at the same time each day prevents day-to-day fluctuations in 24 hour IOP pattern, however is not as important as using the drops every day. Getting into a fixed daily routine generally helps patients to remember to use the drops each day. If, on the occasional day, you are a little late with using the drops, it is better to use the drops late than not at all.

Q: Instead of conventional treatment, will any specific diet or complimentary medicine help my glaucoma?
A: There is no scientific evidence that any particular diet has a helpful (or unhelpful) effect on glaucoma and available evidence does not show a benefit of herb, vitamin and mineral supplements. Your eye health professional will recommend the best way to manage your glaucoma.

Q: If glaucoma can’t be cured then why do I need treatment?
A: Glaucoma cannot be cured, but in most cases it can be controlled successfully with treatment (eye drops, laser and/or surgery) and further loss of sight either prevented or slowed. If a person with glaucoma does not undergo treatment, their optic nerve may become progressively damaged. As a result, the peripheral (side) and eventually central vision, will deteriorate. Damaged vision due to glaucoma is irreversible and if left untreated may progress to blindness.

Q: Will I lose my licence because I have glaucoma?
A: This depends on the amount of vision loss your glaucoma has caused. Fitness to drive for a private car licence requires a best corrected visual acuity of 6/12 or better, with both eyes open. In addition there needs to be at least 120 degrees of visual field free of glaucoma defects with at least 10 degrees free of defects above the horizon. If either of these criteria are not met, a restricted licence may still be possible. Note that licensing requirements vary between states.

Find more information about driving with glaucoma in the following two articles:
Maintaining safe driving habits
Driving in Australia glaucoma considerations

Q: My doctor has recommend treatment/surgery for me? Will it restore my vision?
A: Unfortunately vision lost to optic nerve damage cannot be restored, it is permanent and irreversible. The aim of treatment is to reduce the risk of further glaucoma damage. Your doctor has made a recommendation as part of your glaucoma management plan, to best look after the sight you have now.

 

Lifestyle

Q: Can I (or should I) do physical activity?
A: Keeping your weight down and being physically fit helps to prevent health problems e.g. heart attacks and diabetes, and is important for your overall well-being. How pleasant to know, therefore, that these same measures also help you to protect yourself from glaucoma.

Q: Is sex safe for people with glaucoma?
A: From a glaucoma perspective, in a word yes - just don't hang head down for prolonged periods! Blood vessel health and thus visual health is also promoted by avoiding obesity, and remaining as physically fit as possible. Exercise to the limits of your comfort and ability is highly recommended. As mentioned above, a bonus is the added slight reduction in eye pressure exercise produces for some hours. The only exercises to be avoided are those in which your head is held below your waist - such a posture increases eye pressure. Yoga lovers take note.

Q: I have glaucoma, is it ok to fly in an aeroplane?
A: Generally, flying has no effect on someone with glaucoma, other than a temporary elevation in intraocular pressure (IOP). Following a trabeculectomy there is no increased risk with flying – this also applies to any laser procedure. The only issue with flying is if a procedure has resulted in the retention of air or gas in the eye, mainly pertaining to vitreoretinal surgery. Make sure to ask your ophthalmologist if you have any specific concerns.

Q: I have high eye pressure and I heard that my sleeping position may have an effect on it. Does it matter whether I lie flat or have a high pillow?
A: Although eye pressure does change with posture, there is as yet no strong evidence that a particular sleeping position should be adopted by glaucoma patients. If an individual’s glaucoma is well controlled with no sign of deterioration, the goal of treatment has been achieved and there is no need to look to other lifestyle modifications such as altering sleeping position. Adopting a new sleeping position may affect the quality of a night’s sleep, and as yet there is insufficient evidence to recommend any change in glaucoma patients,

Q: Is there anything I can eat to help with my glaucoma?
A: No specific foods are particularly good or bad for glaucoma treatment. Because optic nerves health depends in part on healthy blood vessels, food that helps to maintain blood vessel health is likely to promote visual health: reduced saturated fats and increased intake of vegetables and fruit are desirable. Red wine also helps to provide extra anti-oxidants and the alcohol content tends to reduce eye pressure, albeit temporarily. So a little red wine almost every day is not a bad idea. Your liver will not like too much however!

Q: Instead of conventional treatment, will any specific diet or complimentary medicine help my glaucoma?
A: There is no scientific evidence that any particular diet has a helpful (or unhelpful) effect on glaucoma and available evidence does not show a benefit of herb, vitamin and mineral supplements. Your eye health professional will recommend the best way to manage your glaucoma.

 

Eye Drops

Q: What do my eye drops actually do?
A: Eye drops used in the treatment of glaucoma work by reducing the intraocular pressure (IOP) within your eyes. There are several classes of drops, which have different mechanisms of action. Prostaglandins, such as latanoprost, travoprost and bimatoprost reduce IOP by increasing drainage outflow from the eye. Other drop classes reduce the formation of fluid within the eye – such as beta blockers (eg timolol), alpha agonists (eg brimonidine, apraclonidine) and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (eg dorzolamide, brinzolamide).

Q: Why are there different preservatives in my eye drops? Why do some eye drops have no preservatives at all?
A: Eye drops used in the treatment of glaucoma typically come in bottles and last approximately 1 month once opened, and are then discarded. Preservatives in the solutions are important in preventing bacteria building up in the bottles after opening. The most common preservative, benzalkonium chloride, is very good at preventing bacterial growth, but can be harmful to the surface of the eye. In recent years some eye drops have been formulated with other, potentially gentler preservatives that seem to be just as effective at preventing bacterial growth. Still other eye drops have been formulated with no preservatives at all – these may be the gentlest form of glaucoma drops and may be suitable for sore, irritated eyes. The preservative-free eye drops are usually designed for single usage – they come in very small, clear plastic dispensers designed to be discarded after each drop administration – hence are only used on opening, when the solution is still sterile.

Q: The information says to discard my eye drop bottle 28 days after opening. I always have some left, why can’t I keep using it until it is empty?
A: On average, the preservatives in bottles of glaucoma medications are designed to safely prevent bacterial growth for 28 days. Hence using the bottle longer than is recommended by the manufacturer can potentially lead to solution degradation, less effective active ingredients and dangerous build-up of bacteria that can lead to infection of the surface of the eye.

Q: I use a product that comes in single use containers. Do I have to throw it out after one use if it holds more than I need for the day?
A: Single use containers generally have preservative free medication formulations within them. These are designed to be used once and then immediately discarded. If kept for a period after being opened, bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms could potentially grow in the solutions to dangerous levels. If reused after this period the micro-organisms in the solution could lead to a harmful infection of the surface of the eye.

Q: Do I need to keep my drops cool?
A: It is recommended to store eye drops refrigerated before opening the bottle. Once opened, the bottle can be kept at or below 25 degrees (room temperature), ensuring it is out of direct sunlight and not in a hot environment for prolonged periods, to avoid medication degradation. Consult your pharmacist if you have any concerns about how to store you medication.

Q: I was told to use my eye drops every day and to make sure I did it at the same time each day. Why is that important?
A: The eye drops only work when they are being used – if you stop using them the eye pressure will increase again. Hence it is important to use them every day, otherwise the IOP will fluctuate. There is some evidence to suggest that fluctuations in IOP may be as harmful to the optic nerve as high IOP.
Using the drops at the same time each day prevents day-to-day fluctuations in 24 hour IOP pattern, however is not as important as using the drops every day. Getting into a fixed daily routine generally helps patients to remember to use the drops each day. If, on the occasional day, you are a little late with using the drops, it is better to use the drops late than not at all.

 

Driving

Q: Will I lose my licence because I have glaucoma?
A: This depends on the amount of vision loss your glaucoma has caused. Whilst licensing requirements vary between states, fitness to drive for a private car licence may require a best corrected visual acuity of 6/12 or better, with both eyes open. In addition there may need to be at least 120 degrees of visual field free of glaucoma defects with at least 10 degrees free of defects above the horizon. If either of these criteria is not met, a restricted licence may still be possible. Your eye health professional can advise you.

Find more information about driving with glaucoma in the following two articles:
Maintaining safe driving habits
Driving in Australia glaucoma considerations

Halos at nightQ: I have glaucoma and when driving at night I get halos around the street lights, especially when it is raining. Why does that happen and can I do anything about it?
A: Glare and halos at night can be from a variety of reasons and may not be related to your glaucoma at all. Other causes could be due to cataract (cloudy lens) or an unstable tear film from having dry irritated eyes. Rarely halos around lights could be due to high pressure in the eye. All of these conditions are best discussed with your treating Ophthalmologist.

Q: I have to renew my licence soon and I have to have an eye test- what tests are done?
A: Fitness to drive for a private car licence usually requires a best corrected visual acuity of 6/12 or better with both eyes open. Visual acuity is a measure of central vision- the ability to distinguish details and the shape of objects.

In addition there usually needs to be at least 120 degrees of visual field free of glaucoma defects with at least 10 degrees free above the horizon. This is tested with a special visual field test called an Esterman Visual Field which again is undertaken with both eyes open. If either of these criteria is not met, a restricted licence may still be possible after further assessment. Consult your ophthalmologist or optometrist for advice.

The restrictions of licences for larger vehicles and commercial vehicles are generally more stringent. These standards are available via the motor licencing authorities in each State and Territory.

Q: I have lost all vision in one eye, because of glaucoma. Will I still pass an eye test for driving as my good eye has perfect vision?
A: To drive a private car you only need one eye to drive! You must not drive within three months of an acute loss if vision. Provided you meet the requirements as outlined by the motor licensing authorities, you may still drive.

Q: What do I need to tell the motor registry if I am diagnosed with glaucoma or any other eye condition?
A: You are obliged to tell the motor licensing authorities if you have an eye condition limiting your vision. You will be given an assessment form that will need to be filled out either by an optometrist or ophthalmologist declaring your suitability to drive.

Q: Can I get glasses with specific driving lenses to help me refocus with near/far vision, reduce glare and/or see better in low light?
A: There are a new generation of spectacle lenses that can help reduce glare for night driving and address problems of depth perception and visual acuity. New products become available all the time so it is best to discuss options with your optometrist.