THE second leading cause of blindness or loss of sight worldwide is known as glaucoma . . .

Called the silent thief of sight, glaucoma has nearly no symptoms or pain, which is why getting your eyes examined is the first step to protecting your vision.

A statement, under the theme “Big invisible glaucoma”, released by eyecare organisation Alcon Glaucoma and the South African Glaucoma Society, said that glaucoma is a range of related diseases, but that “open-angle glaucoma” is the most common version.

“Without diagnosis and treatment, patients will slowly lose their peripheral or side vision,” it said.

As glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss objects to the side and in the corner of their eye sight. It will feel as if they are looking through a tunnel.

Over time central vision may decrease until no vision remains.

Patients can lose as much as 40% of their sight before they even begin to notice a problem.

The following patient groups are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma:

  • Patients with a family history of glaucoma
  • Short-sighted people
  • Black or African ethnic groups
  • Patients of increased age
  • Patients with either high or low blood pressure
  • Long-term users of steroids
  • Those with eye injuries
  • Patients with an elevated intra-ocular pressure (too much pressure pushing inside the eye).

Glaucoma affects an estimated 70 million people all over the world. But in Mzansi, 5% to 7% of the black population and 3% to 5% of the white population are affected.

People over the age of 40 should have a glaucoma test done every two years.

Those between the ages of 50 and 60 years should be tested every 18 months, and people over the age of 60 should get tested every year.

If you have a family history of glaucoma you should be tested from the age of 30.

This is especially important if the affected relative was under 40 years of age when glaucoma was first discovered with him/her.

While the risk increases above the age of 40, everyone from babies to senior citizens can develop glaucoma.

It is vital for those diagnosed to tell their relatives so they also get their eyed tested.