What is glaucoma?

image showing normal vision and how vision is affected by glaucoma

You or a family member may have been told by your optician that you have glaucoma, and naturally you will now want to know “what is glaucoma?”.

Glaucoma is an eye condition where your optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. When the fluid (the aqueous humour) in the front part of the eye cannot drain properly the pressure increases inside the eye and this, in turn, puts pressure on the optic nerve. This causes damage to the optic nerve which can lead to loss of vision if not detected and treated in the early stages. This can affect one or both of your eyes.

It is a common condition but because you often cannot feel the pressure, and the damage happens slowly, you may not know you have it until a lot of the damage has been done. If left untreated people with the condition will slowly lose their peripheral vision. As peripheral vision is affected first, again it may be a while before you notice that your vision is deteriorating. If detected early enough however, the condition can be treated. Although any vision loss cannot be restored and there is no cure for glaucoma, treatment can halt the progression of the condition.

It is important that you find out as early as you can if you have glaucoma. The best way to make sure of this is to have a regular eye examination. If you are at risk of developing glaucoma, you should have an eye examination at least every two years, or more often if your optometrist recommends it.

Glaucoma test

There are 3 main tests to see if you have this eye condition:

The first is where your optometrist looks at the nerve at the back of your eye using an ophthalmoscope, or a machine called a slit lamp. They may also take a photograph of the optic nerve using a fundus camera. This can be useful for future visits, to help see if there are any changes.

The second test is where the optometrist measures the pressure inside your eye. This may be done by gently blowing a puff of 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.

The third test is where the optometrist tests how wide your visual field is (how far you can see around you when you are looking straight ahead).

Anyone can develop the condition. The risk of developing it goes up if you are:

  • aged over 40
  • very short-sighted
  • of African or Caribbean origin
  • closely related to someone with the condition

If one of your parents or children, or a sibling has the condition, and you are over 40 years of age, the NHS will pay for your eye examination every year.

Some people naturally have a pressure reading that is above the normal range, but this pressure does not cause any damage to their eyes. This means they do not have glaucoma. However, they are more likely to develop glaucoma, so their optometrist would advise them to have regular eye examinations.

Glaucoma treatment

If you have this eye condition but do not treat it, your eyesight will gradually get worse, and you could eventually go blind. However, treatment with eye drops may stop it getting worse. If your optometrist suspects that you may have glaucoma, he/she will refer you on to an ophthalmologist. If you do have glaucoma, you will be given eye drops to use every day. These will reduce the pressure and help control the build-up of fluid. If you require an eye exam please contact us.

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