Clinicians often tout glaucoma as a rising public health concern with a risk for blindness. However, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom, as new data suggests that risk might be lower than you think. Analyzing patient data from a study that began in 1981 shows only a relatively small proportion of glaucoma patients developed debilitating visual impairment in their lifetime.

This retrospective patient chart review analyzed 77 deceased patients’ data from 1981 to 2017. Patients included in the study had a baseline IOP of at least 22mm Hg and at least risk factor for glaucoma. The researchers registered all eyes that suffered from visual impairment, calculated the cumulative incidence of visual impairment corrected for competing risks and evaluated the importance of baseline risk factors.

The team found that seven (9%) had become bilaterally visually impaired, only two of whom had glaucoma to blame. They note that none of the eyes experienced glaucoma-induced visual impairment or blindness at five years, but the incidence rose to 0.22 for visual impairment and 0.17 for blindness at 30 years, respectively. They add that no specific risk factor significantly increased the risk of visual impairment caused by glaucoma.

The researchers conclude that very few patients developed visual impairment due to glaucoma, despite being high-risk patients. 

Oskarsdottir SE, Heijl A, Midlöv P, et al. Lifetime risk of visual impairment due to glaucoma in patients initially followed for elevated intraocular pressure. Ophthalmology. October 3, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].