Some people with glaucoma may be unaware of their condition.

Some people with glaucoma may be unaware of their condition.

The Hidden Epidemic: Glaucoma in Aging Adults

Glaucoma

Imagine going through life, completely unaware that you have a potentially sight-threatening condition. Shocking as it may sound, this is the reality for many people with glaucoma. New Swedish research suggests that up to 5% of 70-year-olds have glaucoma, and half of those diagnosed didn’t even know they had the disease1.

Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that damages the optic nerves, leading to gradual vision loss. The tragedy lies in the fact that early-stage glaucoma often goes unnoticed, as the unaffected eye compensates for the visual impairment. But thanks to a groundbreaking study at the University of Gothenburg, individuals were able to receive early intervention and treatment that could potentially save their sight2.

The study, headed by Lena Havstam Johansson, a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, examined a group of 70-year-olds to understand the prevalence of glaucoma in this age group. The results were astonishing – 15 people, or 2.7% of all participants, were unaware of their glaucoma diagnosis until they took part in the study3.

The good news is that those who received a diagnosis were immediately able to start treatment with daily eye drops that lower eye pressure and slow down the progression of optic nerve damage4. Treatment options like these can significantly improve the lives of those affected while providing much-needed comfort.

But what about the impact of glaucoma on a person’s overall quality of life? Surprisingly, researchers found that individuals with glaucoma had similar levels of physical activity, did not smoke or drink more alcohol than those without the disease, and had a comparable overall quality of life5. This finding is particularly heartening, as it counters the assumption that living with a chronic condition automatically leads to a decrease in life satisfaction.

Havstam Johansson comments, “It’s hard to live with a disease that gradually impairs vision, but life can still be good in many ways”6. However, the study did note that individuals with glaucoma reported a poorer vision-related quality of life. Challenges such as difficulty climbing stairs, impaired peripheral vision, and avoidance of social activities due to reduced vision can lead to frustration and a sense of lost independence7.

Glaucoma is a complex disease with various types and risk factors. The study at the University of Gothenburg found that hereditary factors play a significant role in glaucoma, as a majority of those diagnosed had a close relative with the same condition8. Surprisingly, even though elevated eye pressure is often associated with glaucoma, 67% of newly diagnosed individuals had normal eye pressure9. This highlights the importance of regular eye exams in detecting early signs of optic nerve damage.

The American College of Ophthalmology emphasizes that open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, is painless and typically exhibits no vision changes in its early stages10. Therefore, the best way to catch glaucoma early is through regular eye exams that specifically examine the optic nerve. On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the drainage angle in the eye is blocked, resulting in a rapid increase in eye pressure. An acute attack of this type of glaucoma requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent vision loss11.

To summarize, glaucoma is a stealthy condition that can silently diminish vision and quality of life. Timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial in preserving eyesight. Regular eye exams, especially for aging adults, are essential for detecting early signs of glaucoma. While a glaucoma diagnosis can be daunting, it is not a life sentence to misery. With proper management, individuals with glaucoma can lead fulfilling lives, and the joy of living can transcend the challenges of the disease.

Pink Eye

References

  • University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.
  • American College of Ophthalmology. Glaucoma: What is It? 2023.

  1. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  2. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  3. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  4. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  5. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  6. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  7. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  8. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  9. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  10. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎

  11. University of Gothenburg. “Lena Havstam Johansson, a PhD student at the University of Gothenburg and a specialist nurse at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, both in Gothenburg, Sweden. “So half of those who turned out to have glaucoma were diagnosed because they took part in the study.”” September 7, 2023.↩︎