Glaucoma is a blinding eye condition that affects around 700,000 people in the UK. And the scary fact is half these people don’t know they have it. Most types of glaucoma have no early symptoms. Sight is often lost so gradually it can go unnoticed for a long time. Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve, and is often characterised by high pressure inside the eye itself.
Who is at risk of chronic glaucoma?
Anyone can develop chronic glaucoma. The risk of developing chronic glaucoma increases if you:
- are aged over 40
- have a parent or sibling with glaucoma
- are of African, Caribbean or East Asian descent
- are very short-sighted
- have raised pressure in your eye (ocular hypertension)
Men are also at risk. They are less likely to have eye checks than women, and 16% more likely to turn up to hospital with serious sight loss due to late diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
In most cases of early glaucoma there are no noticeable symptoms at all. This is why regular testing is so important. A person with glaucoma may see blurring around the outside of their vision, but this is usually when glaucoma is well advanced. In the rarer type of closed angle glaucoma, you may experience symptoms such as:
- eye redness
- eye pain
- brow or head ache
- haloes around light
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
The best way to catch glaucoma early is to have regular eye examinations, and the International Glaucoma Association encourage everyone to have an eye health check at least every two years.
There are three main tests to check for chronic glaucoma:
- Your optometrist will look at the nerve at the back of your eye using an opthalmoscope, or a slit lamp to shine a light into your eye.
- They may also take a photograph or a scan of the
nerve using an OCT. This can be useful for future visits, to help them see if things have changed.
- The second test will measure the IOP (intraocular pressure). This may be done by using a machine which gently blows a puff or air at your eye, or by numbing your eye with drops and then gently pressing an instrument called a tonometer against it. The tests do not hurt, although the puff of air may feel unusual.
- Lastly, the optometrist will test how wide your field of vision is – how far you can see around you when you are looking straight ahead.
What happens if I have glaucoma?
If your optometrist suspects you have glaucoma, they will refer you to an opthalmologist for diagnosis. You will be given eye drops to use every day that will reduce the pressure and help control the build up of fluid.
In a small number of cases, an ophthalmologist may recommend that you have a laser treatment or surgery to help drain away the fluid.
There is no cure for chronic glaucoma but it can be treated effectively and if picked up early most people will retain useful vision for life.
If you drive a car, the law says you must tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority). You may have to take some additional tests, but most people are still allowed to drive.
If you have any questions about any of this information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here. Please also remember that NHS eye checks in England are free for close relatives of someone with glaucoma over the age of 40 and for everyone over the age of 60.