Eye Health

Updated 15 February 2016

Risk of glaucoma blindness drops by half

According to a study, the likelihood of blindness in glaucoma patients 20 years after diagnosis has fallen by at least half in the last generation.

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Better eye care seems to have brightened the long-term outlook for people with glaucoma. The likelihood of blindness in glaucoma patients 20 years after diagnosis has fallen by at least half in the last generation, according to a new study.

Researchers analysed the medical records of all the people 40 and older in Olmsted County, Minnesota, who were diagnosed with the eye disease between 1981 and 2000. The investigators compared these people to patients diagnosed with glaucoma between 1965 and 1980.

Skill and effort

The incidence of glaucoma did not change, but the risk of going blind in at least one eye fell from about 26% in the earlier group of patients to less than 14% in the newer group. The researchers also found that the annual incidence of glaucoma-caused blindness dropped by more than half.

The results were published online in the journal Ophthalmology.

"This is a testament to the skill and effort of the researchers, physicians and other care providers working in eye care over that period," study senior author Dr Arthur Sit, a Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist, said in a Mayo news release.

Positive impact

"Our improved understanding of glaucoma, along with better treatment and management of patients seem to have had this impact. Still, much research and public education remains to be performed," said Sit. "A 14% blindness rate from a common eye disease is hardly ideal."

Sit said early diagnosis was not a factor in the decreased risk of blindness from glaucoma, noting that the age of first diagnosis did not change.

The only early warning sign of glaucoma is a loss of peripheral vision, but most people fail to notice this change. Regular eye exams are the best way to diagnose the condition, Sit said.

Read more:

•             Glaucoma triggers

•             Glaucoma in a nutshell

•             Benefits of glaucoma screening questioned

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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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