Glaucoma is an eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, becomes damaged. It can lead to loss of vision if not detected and treated early on.
It usually occurs when the fluid in the eye cannot drain properly, which increases the pressure inside the eye and puts pressure on the optic nerve. Although often in the early stages of glaucoma the pressure of the eye is normal.
Glaucoma is a common condition, but many people won’t realise they have it because it doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages.
It can affect people of all ages, including babies and young children, but is most common in adults in their 70s and 80s.
Symptoms of glaucoma
Glaucoma doesn’t usually have any symptoms to begin with and is often only picked up during a routine eye examination.
Many people don’t realise they have it because it develops slowly over many years and tends to cause a loss of peripheral vision (the edge of your vision) at first.
Both eyes are usually affected, although it may be worse in one eye. Without treatment, it can eventually lead to blindness.
Very occasionally, glaucoma can develop suddenly and cause:
- Intense eye pain
- A red eye
- A headache
- Tenderness around the eyes
- Seeing rings around lights
- Blurred vision
This sudden type of glaucoma is called angle closure glaucoma and requires immediate medical attention.
Types of glaucoma
There are several different types of glaucoma.
Some of the main types are:
- Open angle glaucoma – the most common type, which tends to develop slowly over many years
- Angle closure glaucoma – an uncommon type that can develop slowly or quickly
- Secondary glaucoma – glaucoma caused by an underlying eye condition, such as uveitis (inflammation of the eye)
- Childhood glaucoma (congenital glaucoma) – a rare type that occurs in very young children, caused by an abnormality of the eye
Causes of glaucoma
Glaucoma is usually caused by a blockage in the part of the eye that allows fluid to drain from it. This can lead to a build-up of fluid and pressure in the eye and can damage the optic nerve.
It’s often unclear exactly what causes it, although there are some things that can increase your risk, including:
- Your age – glaucoma becomes more likely as you get older and the most common type affects around 1 in 10 people over 75
- Your ethnicity – people of African, Caribbean or Asian origin are at a higher risk of glaucoma
- Your family history – you’re more likely to develop glaucoma if you have a parent or sibling with the condition
It’s not clear whether you can do anything to prevent glaucoma, but having regular eye tests will help ensure it’s picked up as early as possible.
Tests for glaucoma
The earlier we can detect glaucoma the better prognosis for treatment and this is one of the reasons why it is important as we get older to have regular eye examinations. Remember in its early stages the most common form of glaucoma has no treatment.
At Croft and Graves we recommend our Advanced Eye Examination which incorporates advanced tests using our OCT scanner to help detect glaucoma at the earliest possible stage.
The main tests for glaucoma are as follows:
Visual Examination of the optic nerve head
Intraocular Pressure Measurement
Visual Fields Test
Slit lamp Examination
Retinal Nerve Fibre Analysis using an OCT scanner
Ganglion Cell Analysis using an OCT scanner
We can analyse the results of all these tests to determine if you have the early signs of glaucoma.
Treatments for glaucoma
It’s not possible to reverse any loss of vision that occurred before glaucoma was diagnosed, but treatment can help stop your vision getting any worse.
The treatment recommended for you will depend on the type of glaucoma you have, but the main treatments are:
- Eye drops – to reduce the pressure in your eyes
- Laser treatment – to open up the blocked drainage tubes in your eyes or reduce the production of fluid in your eyes
- Surgery – to improve the drainage of fluid from your eyes
You’ll also probably need regular appointments to monitor your condition and ensure treatment is working.
Outlook for glaucoma
The outlook for glaucoma largely depends on the type of glaucoma you have, but generally:
- It can results in some degree of permanent vision loss, although most people retain useful vision for life and some people have no visual difficulties
- It may affect your ability to do certain tasks, such as driving
- Only a very small proportion of people will end up blind
The outlook is better the earlier glaucoma is diagnosed and treated.
This is why it’s so important to get your eyes tested regularly and to make sure you follow your recommended treatment plan.