This week is World Glaucoma Week. The word glaucoma comes from the Greek word, glauk for ‘owl’. As most rural people know, owls have a membrane that slowly closes diagonally across the eye giving the appearance of temporary blindness. Unfortunately the blindness from glaucoma is irreversible – if not caught in time.
Glaucoma happens when there is progressive damage to the optic nerve, the ‘cable’ enabling vision. Regular eye examinations – every two years or so – are the best way to detect early signs of glaucoma and to be able to correct it in time.
However, rural people have poorer access to general medical and specific eye health intervention. This means that diagnosis of eye health problems tends to be later, and clinical intervention and management therefore more challenging.
People with high blood pressure, diabetes, a history of cortisone drugs, migraines or previous eye injury are at risk of developing glaucoma. Rural people in general and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in particular are more susceptible to diabetes, which can contribute to eye health problems.
Between 2001 and 2004–05, the rate of long-term vision loss among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes increased from 15 to 19 per cent, while for non-Indigenous Australians with diabetes it fell from 12 to 9 per cent.
According to Glaucoma Australia, 50 per cent of the people in Australia with glaucoma are undiagnosed. If they do not get checked in time it will be too late to save their sight. Glaucoma Australia is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to minimise visual disability from glaucoma and their support line is: (02) 9906 6640.
Thankfully there are two Government initiatives to improve rural and remote access to eye health services; but much more needs to be done.
One of the Alliance’s 33 member bodies, the Rural Optometry Group of Optometrists Association Australia, helps the peak non-government body for rural and remote health to maintain a focus on rural eye health. And the Alliance has this week published a new Fact Sheet: Eye and vision health in rural Australia, which can be seen under Fact Sheets at www.ruralhealth.org.au
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director: 02 6285 4660