Getting to Know Glaucoma

Did you know 2 in 100 Australians will develop Glaucoma in their lifetime and 50% of these people don't realise they have it? While the condition is most commonly found in adults over 40, infantile (or congenital) Glaucoma affects up to 1 in 5000 children under the age of two. 

Here at Speckles, our mission is to raise awareness about preventable blindness and give parents educational resources in bite-sized amounts. So, what is Glaucoma, what are the experiences of people with this condition and how does it affect their lives long term? 

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of conditions that cause irreversible damage to the eye, resulting in vision loss. Orthoptists sometimes call Glaucoma the ‘sneak thief of sight’ as vision loss is gradual, often going unnoticed until significant damage has occurred. While Glaucoma is incurable, its effects can be delayed or halted through early diagnosis and treatment.

What causes Glaucoma?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what causes Glaucoma, we'll give you some context on how our eyes work. Our bodies constantly produce a clear fluid that nourishes the eye and holds it in shape. This process supports the connection between the optic nerves at the back of the eye and the brain, allowing us to see.

In cases of Glaucoma, there is damage to the drainage angle in the eye causing an increase in intraocular (inside the eye) pressure on the optic nerve. This damage can be primary, where there is no obvious cause, or secondary, where another disease or injury has triggered the condition. Pressure on the optic nerves causes irreversible damage to the connection between the eyes and the brain, resulting in gradual vision loss that starts at the periphery and continues until the patient's entire vision is affected.

The development of infantile Glaucoma looks a little different. Just like growing bones, children's eyes are more flexible or floppy and consequently, increased intraocular pressure will stretch the eye and cause it to inflate like a balloon. As the eye enlarges, so does the cornea resulting in its membrane splitting. Some signs and symptoms of infantile Glaucoma include increased tear production, sensitivity to light, involuntary contractions of the eyelids, changes to the size and shape of the cornea and a blue or grey tinge to the sclera (the white part of the eye).

Early vision loss often goes unnoticed, which is why it is so important to raise awareness about Glaucoma and provide early intervention through an ophthalmologist. Treatment options include using eye drops, taking oral medications or getting surgery to regulate pressure inside the eye.

Want to learn more about the different types of Glaucoma? Check out this great video by Zero to Final.

How do people with Glaucoma see the world?

We're visual people here at Speckles and believe the best way to help you understand how people with Glaucoma see the world is to show you. This video by Glaucoma Aware gives great insight into how the condition progresses.

How does Glaucoma impact kids' lives?

While Glaucoma isn't life threatening, it can pose challenges such as low periphery vision, blurred vision, light sensitivity and anxiety about long term impacts. Lachlan Knight from Flinders University in Melbourne interviewed youngsters with Glaucoma to find out how they manage the condition and their experiences in eye clinics, at school and in their daily lives.

Lachlan found that many of the kids he spoke to felt misunderstood, self-conscious and fearful about future surgeries or the condition's progression. This fear wasn't only related to the physical side of Glaucoma, but also the financial costs of living with the condition as well as social acceptance in school, at work and in their community.

Some kids also reported being frustrated about the perceived limitations Glaucoma places on their lives such as being able to play sports, drive a car, read from a distance and have a family in the future. Most of the participants in the study said these limitations also placed inconveniences on their lives such as having to schedule appointments around other commitments, using public transport or taxis and taking longer to do visual tasks.

However, a big takeaway from Lachlan's study was that kids develop fantastic coping strategies and resilience as a result of their experiences with Glaucoma. This perspective is summed up perfectly by one participant who said, “I think it’s probably put my life in a better mindset and vision sort of thing. For myself now and [in] the future.”

Want to learn more about Lachlan's study? Check out his Q&A with Glaucoma Australia.