Seniors Online logo

Glaucoma patient urges Australians to know their family history

When Bette Smith’s cousin told her they had glaucoma in the family, she decided to get her eyes checked.

Bette Smith

Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Around 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, yet 50 per cent of people don’t know they have it.

While vision loss due to glaucoma can’t be restored, finding and treating glaucoma early can slow or stop the progression of the disease. This is why early detection is key.

Glaucoma is largely a genetic disease so knowing your family history is important.

“You don’t muck around when it comes to your sight. As soon as I was told there was glaucoma in the family, I started going to see an eye specialist every two years. At one of those checks, the onset of glaucoma was detected and I was immediately started on a treatment plan,” said Bette.

Thankfully, Bette’s glaucoma was found early, without any loss to her vision.

“This has meant I haven’t lost any peripheral vision, thanks to the early detection of my glaucoma. Understanding your family health history is key to appreciating the urgency of having an eye test,” said Bette.

Adherence to treatments is also an ongoing issue. A recent study found 50% of people diagnosed with glaucoma stop taking their medications within six months [1]. After one year, only 33–39% of people were still taking their initial glaucoma medication [2].

Treatment is key to slowing or halting glaucoma’s progression. Glaucoma Australia’s SiGHTWiSE programExternal Link encourages people living with glaucoma to keep taking their medications and go to follow-up appointments.

“I was given a treatment plan of eye drops for my glaucoma. To ensure I remember to take my drops each day I have an object on my kitchen bench which I move once I’ve administered my drops. Before I go to bed, I move the object back. It’s a visual reminder to ensure I take my drops, but also confirm that I have already taken them. Thanks to being strict with my treatment regime, my sight has remained stable for the past 10 years, even with glaucoma. I understand my sight may change at some stage, but I’m certainly giving myself the best chance to keep my glaucoma at bay,” said Bette.

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but the incidence increases with age. About 1 in 10,000 babies are born with glaucoma. By age 40, about 1 in 200 people will be diagnosed with the disease, rising to 1 in 8 at age 80.

Glaucoma is hereditary in most cases. You are 10 times more likely to have glaucoma if you have a direct family member with glaucoma. First-degree relatives of people with glaucoma have an almost 1 in 4 chance of developing glaucoma in their lifetime. The risk increases to 56 per cent if their glaucoma is advanced, so finding out your family history of the disease is critical.

Glaucoma AustraliaExternal Link recommends people aged 50 and over visit an eye health professional every two years for a comprehensive eye exam. If you have a family history of glaucoma, get your eyes checked every two years from the age of 40.

Book your eye check this World Glaucoma Week (10–16 March 2024). Visit Health Direct to find an optometrist in your areaExternal Link .

If you or someone you care for lives with glaucoma, call Glaucoma Australia’s free support line on 1800 500 880.


[1] Bansal R., Tsai J. Compliance/Adherence to Glaucoma Medications—A Challenge. J. Curr. Glaucoma Pract. 2007;1:22–25. doi: 10.5005/jp-journals-10008-1052

[2] Adherence and persistence with glaucoma therapy. Schwartz GF, Quigley HA Surv Ophthalmol. 2008 Nov; 53 Suppl1():S57-68.

Reviewed 11 March 2024