12.5 million people across the world are blind because of glaucoma and 10% of people registered blind in the UK have this condition. In England alone, approximately 480,000 people are affected by a particular type of glaucoma called 'open angle' glaucoma and those of African Caribbean descent are six times more likely to develop this type of glaucoma than those of other ethnicities. If not picked up early glaucoma can lead to deterioration in eyesight and, ultimately, blindness. This is a significant public health issue and further action is needed to educate this group on the dangers of the condition and how easy it is to treat if caught early. Worryingly, our own research* has revealed a concerning lack of awareness among the African Caribbean community about their increased risk of developing the condition; we found that over a third (36%) of people of African Caribbean descent living in the UK are unaware that they are at a higher risk than other population groups of developing the condition.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases where the optic nerve, which transmits signals from your eye to your brain, is damaged. Sometimes this is due to poor blood circulation to the nerve or an increase in pressure within the eye. Open angle glaucoma usually occurs slowly and crucially doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms. It affects the peripheral vision first, only affecting the central vision in later stages -so many people have no idea that they are suffering from it until it has already caused some degree of permanent damage. Other forms of glaucoma, which are rarer, can have symptoms such as pain.
Whilst the statistics around glaucoma are extremely concerning, the good news is that if caught early enough the condition can be easily managed, deterioration in sight avoided and blindness prevented. It's important that members of the African Caribbean community not only understand they are at increased risk of developing glaucoma, but also that they are likely to suffer from the condition up to ten years earlier than other ethnicities. Greater knowledge and awareness would significantly reduce the number of African Caribbean people presenting late with the condition and suffering significant eyesight deterioration as a result.
To help achieve this we have launched Eye Matter - a campaign to raise awareness of glaucoma within African Caribbean communities. College experts are visiting African Caribbean community groups in Croydon, Birmingham and Manchester to talk to members about the condition and the importance of regular check-ups to reduce the risk of avoidable sight loss.
The campaign has been welcomed by community groups such as the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in Birmingham. Janet Corlis, CEO of the centre said: "We're really pleased that the College of Optometrists is launching a campaign to raise awareness of glaucoma. At the moment, too many members of our community do not know enough about the condition and as a result often don't seek treatment in time. We look forward to working with the College over the next few weeks to make sure as many members as possible know all the facts about the condition and the importance of looking after their eye health."
More information about glaucoma and the College's Eye Matter campaign can be found on the College's website: http://lookafteryoureyes.org
* Figure taken from the College of Optometrists' Britain's Eye Health in Focus report 2013. Research was undertaken by YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 4,032 nationally representative UK adults. We also surveyed an additional 320 adults in the most at risk BAME groups - people of African-Caribbean and South Asian origins. Fieldwork was undertaken between the 31 July and 5 August 2012 and the survey was carried out online. The main figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+).