Understand Glaucoma

Posted on: 05 November 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The effects of glaucoma can be devastating, so ensure you know the facts and have your eyes checked regularly.

Glaucoma is an eye condition which damages the peripheral vision first, and can result in up to 40% vision loss before you notice a difference.

There are two types of glaucoma.  The most common is called open angle glaucoma and this affects between 2% and 4% of people in the UK, over the age of 60.

The less common type of glaucoma is called closed angle glaucoma and this affects less than 1% of over 60s in the UK.

Here, Specsavers optician Nigel Best explains glaucoma and how opticians check for this condition. 

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

Unfortunately, the most common type of glaucoma, open angle glaucoma, has no symptoms until the disease is significantly progressed and is difficult to treat.  At this point some visual loss will be experienced.

The less common type of glaucoma, closed angle glaucoma, typically presents itself with a very painful red eye and and requires emergency treatment.

Sometimes glaucoma can occur after a patient has suffered from another eye condition, and we call this secondary glaucoma.

What are the risk factors for glaucoma?

The major risk factor for glaucoma is advancing age - basically the older we get the more likely we are to suffer from glaucoma.

Another major risk factor is a family history of the disease. Having a parent who suffers or suffered from glaucoma doubles an individual's risk.  If your sibling is a sufferer, you are at three times the risk.

The last major risk factor is being of African or Afro-Caribbean descent, and this can more than double your likelihood of getting glaucoma.

Is there anything you can do to prevent glaucoma?

Unfortunately not really. The major risk factors are age, family history and ethnicity - all of which are beyond our control, so regular eye examinations is vital to allow early diagnosis.

How does an optician look for signs of glaucoma?

There are three main things an optician will look at when checking for glaucoma.

The first is the appearance of the optic nerve. In glaucoma this is paler than normal and it is assessed by your optician shining a light into your eye.

Next the optician will check the pressure inside your eyes, usually on a machine which blows a gentle puff of air onto the front of the eye.

Finally the optician can use a visual field machine to check for any subtle blind spots you may have in your peripheral vision.

By looking at the results of all three of these tests together it allows the optician to decide whether you have glaucoma or appeat to be at risk of  developing it in the future.

What can be done to treat glaucoma?

Initially glaucoma is treated with eye drops which you normally have to put in every day for the rest of your life. The drops are designed to reduce the amount of fluid inside your eye, reducing the pressure on the nerves at the back.

If the drops are not reducing pressure sufficiently an operation can be performed to allow more fluid to drain from the eye reducing the pressure.

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