A better view of glaucoma

Monday, 30 November 2015

Glaucoma is often called 'the silent thief of sight' and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Many people who develop glaucoma don’t realise they have it until it is too late.

It is an insidious condition affecting the optic nerve and causing a progressive loss of sight. An estimated 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, but only half have been diagnosed. The other 150,000 are living with the risk of progressive vision loss leading to possible blindness.

The cost of glaucoma to the Australian economy is increasing by $120 million a year and is expected to be $43 billion by 2025.

Research has demonstrated a number of easily assessed risk factors which can be used to predict the likelihood of progression and vision loss in each individual. Most importantly, clinical research has demonstrated that early detection and treatment can slow or even halt the progress of the disease.

Wherever they live, everyone at risk - particularly older people - should be regularly assessed to reduce the incidence of avoidable vision loss from glaucoma.

Glaucoma Australia and Optometry Australia have developed a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at supporting and improving programs to ensure that everyone at risk has appropriate examination, assessment and treatment. The two bodies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding designed to promote their critical roles in glaucoma detection and management within the community.

The new relationship between Glaucoma Australia and Optometry Australia is an opportunity to develop patient and practitioner resources specifically appropriate for rural conditions. The National Rural Health Alliance applauds this initiative and stands ready to assist where it can.

It is critical that every Australian has regular eye examinations throughout life so that diseases such as glaucoma can be detected early and suitable treatment programs put in place. Optometrists play a key role in this.

Most towns of 8000 or more have a local therapeutically-qualified optometrist who works with local general practitioners to assess and manage patients with eye diseases, including glaucoma. When necessary, they refer to the nearest available ophthalmologist (medical eye specialist) to ensure that every patient receives the most effective and efficient management regime. Often the disease can be managed locally with occasional telehealth communication with an ophthalmologist.

The MOU will see the two organisations working together to ensure that a uniform message is delivered to the public, health professions, governments and other stakeholders on all issues concerning glaucoma.

Optometry Australia will promote the availability of glaucoma patient referral programs and materials developed by Glaucoma Australia and encourage its members to use those programs and materials with glaucoma patients.

Glaucoma Australia will promote the role of optometrists as significant primary health care practitioners in the detection and care of patients with glaucoma and those at risk of developing glaucoma.

The two organisations will work together to advocate for universal regulatory and policy settings that encourage economically sustainable support for the early detection and collaborative care of glaucoma.


Phil Anderton

Rural Optometry Group of Optometry Australia