Media Alert: World Glaucoma Week: 7 -13 March 2010 | Western Cape Government


Media Alert: World Glaucoma Week: 7 -13 March 2010

9 March 2010

Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve of the eye, leading to vision loss and possible blindness.

In support of the campaign to create awareness about glaucoma, the Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha, will go for a glaucoma test at the rooms of the director of the World Glaucoma Patient Association, Dr. Ellen Ancker.

Date: Thursday, 11 March 2010 at 12:30

Time: 12:30

Venue: Dr Ellen Ancker, Doctor's Rooms, 3rd Floor, 39 Kloof Street, Cape Town

Glaucoma - "The Silent Thief of Sight"

World Glaucoma Week 2010, 7 - 13 March 2010, is a joint global initiative of the World Glaucoma Association, and the World Glaucoma Patient Association, and aims to raise awareness about this chronic, progressive eye disease.

Glaucoma represents a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve (the bundle of nerve fibres that carry information from the eye to the brain) leading to vision loss and possible blindness. Glaucoma is the third leading cause of blindness worldwide. Over a period of twenty (20) years, the risk of legal blindness from newly diagnosed glaucoma in a Caucasian population is estimated to be twenty seven percent (27%) in at least one eye, and nine percent (9%) in both.

The prevalence of glaucoma worldwide is estimated at seventy (70) million people. In South Africa five to seven percent ( 5-7%) of the black population and three to five percent (3-5%) of the white population are affected. In many countries approximately fifty percent (50%) of the people with glaucoma do not know they have the disease. Glaucoma has no warning signs. The most common type of glaucoma is painless. The disease progresses slowly so patients may only experience vision problems once there is already damage to the optic nerve.

The cause of glaucoma is still unknown. However, we do know that the following patient groups are at risk of developing glaucoma:

  • patients with an elevated Intra-Ocular Pressure (IOP).
  • patients with a family history of glaucoma.
  • short-sighted people.
  • black ethnic groups.
  • patients of increased age.
  • patients with either high or low blood pressure.
  • long-term use of steroids.
  • eye injuries.

Although there is currently no cure for glaucoma, evidence from multiple studies has shown that early diagnosis and treatment of (IOP), characteristic of the disease, is effective in delaying or preventing disease progression. A number of methods have been developed to reduce (IOP) and these include topical eye drops, minimally-invasive laser surgical techniques and invasive surgical procedures. Topical glaucoma eye drops are very effective in lowering (IOP). The drops are administered on a daily basis and the treatment is long-term. Some drops are available in a preservative-free formulation which can minimize possible allergic reaction. The cost of glaucoma medication in terms of inconvenience, side effects and financial implications for each individual, requires careful evaluation.

Elevated IOP can cause structural damage to the optic nerve resulting in functional loss of the nerve. The goal of glaucoma treatment is to ensure adequate lowering of IOP, so as to maintain the patient's visual function and quality of life. Present studies which have demonstrated improvement of ocular blood flow and direct neuro-protection treatment appear promising. Compromised ocular blood flow could well be the cause of glaucoma damage in patients with normal intra-ocular pressure (i.e. they do not have an elevated IOP and yet signs of the disease are present on examination). Furthermore, some eyes with elevated IOP do not develop optic nerve damage. These findings confirm that intra-ocular pressure (IOP) is not the only risk factor contributing to the development of structural and functional optic nerve loss.

The functional glaucoma damage usually begins near the centre of vision and then proceeds to the peripheral vision. In the late stage of the disease tunnel vision and central vision become affected. Glaucoma damage is usually a slow process but some patients experience fast progression of visual loss and even blindness (usually in one eye first) within a few years.

People over the age of forty (40) should have a glaucoma test every two years; between the ages of fifty (50) and sixty (60) years, every eighteen (18) months; and over the age of sixty (60), every year. Children with a family history of glaucoma should be tested as early as thirty (30) years of age. Patients receiving pro-longed treatment with cortico-steroids should have their eyes tested yearly. Prior to testing the eyes a topical local anesthetic drop is administered to each eye (which does not affect visual quality), and the test is quick and painless.

World Glaucoma Week 2010, aims to raise global awareness of glaucoma. Through this awareness we can identify undiagnosed glaucoma patients and ensure that they are offered the appropriate treatment to prevent visual impairment from this chronic and progressive eye disease. Protecting quality of vision enhances quality of life in every glaucoma patient. The public at large and the local and national authorities need to know and understand the severity of glaucoma.

Dr Ellen Ancker
Director World Glaucoma Patient Association
World Glaucoma Week 2010

Glaucoma facts:

  • Glaucoma is not a painful disease and most people do not know they have the disease until it is detected and/or diagnosed.
  • Glaucoma Tests are painless: The optic nerve structure and function, and the intra-ocular pressure (IOP) can be tested.
  • Most types of glaucoma are chronic, which means long-term treatment is prescribed.
  • Since there are no known preventative measures it is important to have your eyes tested if you suspect that you may be at risk of having the disease.
  • Risk Factors for glaucoma include: Increased age, a family history of glaucoma, short-sightedness, black ethnic people, diagnosed high blood pressure or low blood pressure, long-term steroid treatment and eye injuries.
  • Once diagnosed with glaucoma, regular monitoring of the disease is important and treatment is life-long.
Media Enquiries: 

Helen Rossouw
Media liaison
Western Cape Ministry of Health
Tel: 021 483 4426
Cell: 082 771 8834
Fax: 021 483 4143