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Glaucoma: the Silent Thief of Sight

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Glaucoma is commonly called the “silent thief of sight” and is a leading cause of vision loss in Canada.  The most common form of glaucoma shows no warning signs, allowing it to go unnoticed until irreversible loss of vision has occurred.  Because it develops painlessly and gradually, regular comprehensive eye examinations with an optometrist are important to determine the presence of, and risk for, glaucoma.

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, the tissue connecting the eye to the brain.   Peripheral (side) vision is damaged first, and if the condition becomes advanced, central vision and total loss of vision can occur.  To date, it is not a curable disease, and vision cannot be regained once lost.   Though there is no cure, treatment with medication and/or surgery can preserve sight and delay vision loss.

The disease can develop in anyone; however, those at most risk are over the age of 40 and have:

  • a family history of glaucoma
  • increased eye pressure
  • cardiovascular disease
  • a history of chronic use of certain medications (such as corticosteroids)
  • African, Asian, or Hispanic ancestry.

As Canada’s population ages, glaucoma will become more common.  By 2021, more than 321,000 Canadians over the age of 40 are estimated to develop open-angle glaucoma.  Since a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to diagnose glaucoma, routine visits to your local optometrist is essential.

For seniors over the age of 65, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers annual comprehensive eye exams, and any required follow-ups, with an optometrist.  For adults aged 20-64, optometric eye examinations are covered by OHIP for those with certain medical conditions, including glaucoma.

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Written by Radhika Chawla

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