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Glaucoma is the number one preventable cause of blindness in New Zealand

Good caught up with Auckland-based ophthalmologist and leading glaucoma expert, Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer, to talk all things glaucoma and why Kiwi’s should be opening their eyes – literally! 

Could you please explain what Glaucoma is?

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the normal fluid pressure inside the eye rises, leading to vision loss. For some people, the optic nerve is sensitive to normal pressure levels. In both cases, the nerve fibres progressively die if the pressure is not lowered. As the nerve fibres die, the peripheral or side vision is affected first. Therefore, visual loss goes undetected until it is quite advanced and is eventually irreversible. Ultimately, glaucoma can impact central vision leading to blindness.

Why is it important that we know about Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a silent disease in the early stages. Often, by the time you realise your vision is deteriorating the majority of the irreversible damage is already done and you can be legally blind before you notice symptoms.

It is estimated only half of the approximately 115,000 New Zealanders with glaucoma are aware they have it. That means that over 57,000 people, if left untreated, could lose their eyesight.

Whilst glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled if it’s detected and treated early.

What are some common myths that you want to address?

The most common myth is that you must be elderly to develop glaucoma, but in reality, glaucoma can occur at any age, although its prevalence increases as one gets older. Another common myth is that if you have 20/20 vision you will not develop glaucoma.

Are there treatments available?

If caught early, in many cases glaucoma can be treated with a range of effective options which are available for controlling the disease.

Recent game changing technology introduced into New Zealand includes the Glaukos iStent inject Trabecular Micro-Pass System. This is the smallest known device to be implanted into the human body, measuring less than 1mm – as small as a speck of dust. It restores the eye’s ability to drain fluid which reduces the pressure associated with glaucoma.

We’re excited that for some glaucoma patients, these revolutionary stents can provide new treatment opportunities that were not previously possible. The device is effective with almost no risk to the patient and may reduce the burden of lifelong medication issues (usually eye drops), and side effects.

What recommendations do you have for our readers when it comes to glaucoma?

To provide the best opportunity for early detection of glaucoma we urge everyone to prioritise regular eye examinations, particularly after the age of 40.

Regular eye tests are not just about upgrading your glasses. You book your car in every year for a check-up so why not yourself – think of it as an eye health Warrant of Fitness that could literally save your sight!

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