Glaucoma is the number two cause of irreversible blindness in the world, second only to cataracts. It doesn’t have many early warning signs, and most people don’t know they have it until it’s too far progressed to effectively treat. But now that a team of researchers at UNSW Australia have developed a new way of testing for the disease, the hope is that more people will be able to catch it sooner.
This new form of light therapy, which involves patients looking at small dots of light, is able to show if the eyes are beginning to deteriorate. Patients stare at a fixed point while small lights of varying size and brightness appear across their entire field of vision. An inability to see some of the lights may indicate blind spots and early loss of peripheral vision. The results of these experiments were published recently in the journal Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics.
Professor Michael Kalloniatis, Director of the UNSW Centre for Eye Health, said “Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in the world, and in the early stages patients usually have no symptoms and are not aware they are developing permanent vision loss,” adding “The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure, but its progression can be slowed with eye drops or surgery to lower pressure in the eye. So, early detection and early treatment is vital for prolonging sight.”
Patients with glaucoma have excess fluid pressure inside the eye. This pressure slowly damages the surrounding tissue, eventually leading to its deterioration and failure. But unlike many other eye disorders, glaucoma is not uncomfortable, and creates no sensations of pain, discomfort, redness, or other noticeable symptoms, that is, until vision begins to deteriorate, at which point the treatment options are very limited.
The disease can affect just one eye, but most commonly affects both. There are currently four commonly used methods for testing for glaucoma.
Each of these tests measures one metric of vision at different locations of the visual field. The new method, however, addresses the fact that the eyes process peripheral visual differently than central vision.
Among test subjects involved in the study, the updated test proved to be more accurate in detecting glaucoma, and was able to do so earlier in the disease’s development.