Does the prevalence of glaucoma increase with age?
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Let’s start by dispelling a myth; glaucoma is not purely a condition of old age. Glaucoma can in fact develop at any time and sadly, some babies are even born with a form of congenital glaucoma. That being said, the chance of developing glaucoma does rise as you age. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) quotes a 2015 study which revealed that whilst 1% of those aged 40 had the most common form of glaucoma - primary open angled glaucoma - that figure rises to 3% in people aged 60 and 8% in those aged 80.
A recent study  found that the prevalence of glaucoma was 1.89%. Whilst these may not sound like a lot, it also confirmed that 50% of all glaucoma is not diagnosed and with it being a slow-progressing disease, symptoms sometimes do not show at all. More worryingly is that if left untreated glaucoma can lead to blindness within several years.
So why do our chances of developing glaucoma increase with age? Well, glaucoma primarily arises when the retinal ganglion cells start to die off, through a process known as apoptosis; ultimately the optic nerve becomes damaged. And that damage is often caused by increased pressure within the eye, generally as a result of a build-up of fluid (either through overproduction or reduced outflow).  Poor blood flow to the optic nerve has also been identified as a potential risk factor.  Because the build-up of pressure is gradual, the older we become, the more likely it is that any damage will start to affect our vision.
There is evidence these days that up to 50% of all glaucoma patients have pressure within ‘normal’ limits. The American Academy of Ophthalmology now adds an extra sentence in their definition of glaucoma, where they state that the ‘intra ocular pressure is too high for the continued health of the eye’, giving acknowledgment that the pressure may be within normal limits, but it may still be too high for that person’s eyes.
It’s one reason why regular eye checks are so important. The earlier that a potential for glaucoma is identified, the more can be done to stop vision from deteriorating. Whilst any existing damage can’t be treated it is possible to reduce the impact of further deterioration. Options here include eye drops or surgery, with the aim of reducing the pressure within the eye and improve drainage to prevent future build ups of fluid.
In addition to regular eye checks, it is also worth being aware of some of the glaucoma risk factors. A family history of glaucoma is one factor, but so are certain conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure. In fact, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as the rest of the population.
That is why we are so proud of our first ophthalmic device, the Occuity PM1 which will be the world's first handheld, non-contact, optical pachymeter. As it offers several key advantages over existing measurement methods, The PM1 will make it easier, faster and safer to support the diagnosis of glaucoma by measuring cornea centre thickness in just a few seconds.
Glaucoma isn’t confined to the elderly but as a progressive condition, it can severely impact older years. Regular eye testing and early intervention can help to mitigate or manage the condition, helping to reduce the instances of a condition which is the second most prevalent cause of blindness in the world.
Find out more about the advantages of the PM1 over existing ultrasound devices here –