Glaucoma is not an uncommon condition; in England and Wales alone more than half a million people suffer from the disease – with many others not even realising they could be affected.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, affecting 2 in every 100 people over 40 years old and 5 in 100 people over 80 years old. However, people of all ages are at risk.
National Glaucoma Awareness Week is later this year and runs from the 9th to 15th June. We wanted to share more information with you about the condition – what can cause Glaucoma, how to check if you could have it, and how to treat it.
Glaucoma is primarily caused by a build-up of pressure which damages the optic nerve. Both eyes are usually affected, with one eye often developing the condition faster than the other.
There are four main types of the condition: Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG, also referred to as chronic glaucoma), acute angle closure glaucoma, secondary glaucoma and developmental glaucoma.
Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease. With POAG you may not notice any pain or deterioration in your eyesight, but your vision is still being affected. As it is a chronic condition, the glaucoma symptoms will worsen over time, and if left untreated would gradually make it seem as if you were looking down a tube – also known as tunnel vision.
The three other types of glaucoma are rare but can lead to blindness if specialist help is not sought immediately. Rarer forms are: primary angle closure glaucoma, which can occur slowly or rapidly with a sudden, painful build-up of pressure, and secondary glaucoma, which mainly occurs after an eye injury or other condition, such as inflammation. Developmental glaucoma is equally as serious but is an eye abnormality found in young children.
The most important part of treating glaucoma is catching the disease as early as possible, with prevention being key – as any damage sustained due to the condition cannot be reversed.
Regular trips to the optician are of paramount importance, with three easy, painless tests used to diagnose the disease.
Opticians test for glaucoma by emitting a puff of air into the eye, also known as tonometry. It may make you jump a bit, but this simple test could mean the difference between going blind and saving your eyesight.
The optician will also look into your eye at the optic nerve by using an instrument similar to a torch to take a closer look at the area of your eye where your optic nerve leaves the retina.
The final test is by checking your field of vision. This involves sitting in front of a special machine and looking straight ahead. Points of light come in from different directions and you press a button each time you see one. One eye is tested at a time. The computer-generated results produced then show which lights you saw and identify if you missed lights from a particular direction.
If you have signs of glaucoma then the optician refers you to an eye specialist – officially known as an ophthalmologist – for more detailed tests which can identify the appropriate treatment.
You are entitled to a free NHS eye test if you are over 40 years old and have a mother, father, sister or brother with glaucoma. You may also be entitled to a free test if an ophthalmologist thinks you are at risk of developing glaucoma or if you are over 60 years old.
Treatment for glaucoma is simple and aims to prevent further damage to the optic nerve by lowering the pressure in your eye. This is done by reducing the amount of fluid produced.
Eye drops are often used alongside regular monitoring by the ophthalmologist – at least once a year to ensure the treatment is working and pressure is controlled.
In some cases, eye drops are not successful which can result in a need for laser treatments. These aim to improve fluid draining from the eye or even create new drainage points. Both laser treatments reduce pressure and are usually only performed once, but sometimes may need to be repeated. They are classed as minor operations and are performed under local anaesthetic.
If other treatments cannot lower and stabilise the pressure in your eye, surgery may be required. This is a last resort, with very few people requiring surgery. This surgery creates a new drainage passage in your eye to lower pressure.
Your eye specialist will discuss the best method, whether it be drops, laser or surgery as treatment. Regardless of the effectiveness of treatments, catching the disease early is the most effective way to combat the condition.
If you believe you could be at risk from glaucoma, or if you are concerned about the condition, contact your optician.