A very common and understandable worry with a glaucoma diagnosis is whether one will lose sight altogether. Though according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, 10% of those treated for glaucoma still lose sight, this also means that 90% will not! It is important to understand whether a person is diagnosed and receiving treatment early in the course of the disease. There are many factors which affect the degree and length of time when, or even if sight loss occurs:
- Has the patient 'only' been found to have elevated IOPs but without optic nerve damage or visual field loss?
- Has the patient been referred to an ophthalmologist and found to have elevated pressures but with optic nerve pathology and/or visual field loss?
- Did the patient visit an eye doctor because of vision problems related to glaucoma and are there other related health problems and/or issues like cataracts or other eye disease?
- How old is the patient when diagnosed, and what type of glaucoma do they have (if the disease started early on, there may have been more time for damage etc.)?
There are many variables in determining whether a person will ever 'go blind', and to what degree, if any, they will experience noticeable impediments to visual acuity. However, few people receiving an early diagnosis and proper treatment to lower eye pressure, ever actually go completely blind. It is important to remember however, that if a person is found to have defects in the visual field, they have already lost a considerable amount of nerve tissue. But there is commonly still plenty of 'reserve' left in the amount of nerve tissue. This is more true if there are only minor defects in the visual field, and the Retinal scan (OCT) does not show significant nerve fiber loss.
There are more aggressive forms of glaucoma such as pseudoexfoliation which may also cause related problems affecting visual acuity such as cataracts. However, most glaucomas are slow to reduce vision and usually affect the peripheral vision long before central vision goes, usually taking many years even to be noticed by patients. Very few members of our own FitEyes group actually have blindness resulting from glaucoma - although there are a few that are considered in the 'low vision' category.
Therefore, with modern, highly sophisticated screening techniques, more effective eye drops, and better options for surgical treatment of high pressures, the risk of significant sight loss, and particularly blindness, is relatively low. And let's not forget all the things we can do ourselves, like eating properly, exercising, and reducing stress in order to prevent glaucoma from robbing our vision!