It’s world glaucoma week and awareness is being raised around the world about the damage this eye condition causes and how it can be diagnosed, prevented and treated.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma refers to group of eye conditions that cause a gradually increasing amount of damage to the optic nerve. Your optic nerve carries information from the eye to brain to give you a picture of what you are looking at, so any deterioration can affect vision.
In the worst cases, glaucoma can lead to blindness. It is currently estimated that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to this condition and it has been predicted to rise to as many as 11.2 million people by 2020.
Who is at risk developing glaucoma?
Glaucoma can affect anybody at any age, however there are some people who are at higher risk of developing it than others. These include elderly people (over 70 or 80), people of African or East Asian descent and diabetics, amongst others.
What causes it?
Damage is usually caused by a blockage in the eye area that causes fluid to build up and leads to high pressure. It can also be caused by the onset of age, affecting 1 in 10 people over the age of 75, and is more likely to occur if another family member has been diagnosed with it before.
What are the symptoms?
Known as ‘the silent thief of sight’, glaucoma is often symptomless in the early stages of the disease. Occasionally sufferers can experience headaches, eye pain and blurry vision as well as other discomforts but vision loss doesn't occur until later on.
What are the different types of glaucoma?
There are many types of glaucoma, but the two main types are open angle and closed angle glaucoma.
- Closed angle glaucoma happens quickly and the sufferer can experience pain and rapid vision loss. In most cases this leads them to seek medical help immediately and get help to prevent any further damage.
- Open angle glaucoma progresses slowly and tends to creep up on the individual meaning that they often don’t realise until vision begins to deteriorate. Many sufferers don’t get treatment until some permanent damage has already occurred.
How can it be diagnosed?
Fortunately, glaucoma is easily detected if you go for regular eye tests (at least once every two years). Making this effort will ensure that if you do have glaucoma, it is caught early and can be treated before any damage is done.
- Eye pressure
Normally, your eye doctor will use a tonometer to measure pressure. They’ll use some anaesthetic and dye and place the tonometer’s sensor against the surface of the eye. The reading that comes from this surface indicates the pressure levels in the eye.
Your ophthalmologist may examine the area where fluid drains out of the eye to see if there is an opening or a blockage. To do this the doctor may use a mirrored contact lens and anaesthetic drops.
This test checks what part of the individual’s vision is lacking and is also known as a visual field test. The ophthalmologist will show a series of spots of lights and the patient will be asked to identify them. Some of these dots will be in the periphery of the patients vision, which is the first part to deteriorate if they have glaucoma.
How it can be treated?
You may be prescribed with medicated eyedrops. These will help to relieve the pressure in your eyes and work in different ways. Some will reduce fluids produced in the eye and some will increase how they flow out of the eye. It’s important to stick to the eye drops you are recommended.
You may be prescribed pills to do the same as eyedrops if for some reason they are unsuitable for you.
In some cases surgery may be required. You could require laser treatment to open up blocked drainage tubes or reduce the production of fluid in the eyes. It’s also possible that you may require an operation to improve the drainage in your eyes.
To prevent glaucoma from causing any damage to your sight, you should have regular eye tests. Catching glaucoma early can stop it from having any effect and the longer it's allowed to develop, the greater the impact it can have. So, if you haven’t had an eye test in the last 2 years, make sure you get one booked in as soon as possible.