Glaucoma is the number one cause of permanent blindness in the world, with 600,000 of those affected living in the UK. It’s expected to affect up to 76 million people worldwide by 2020, with only half of people in the UK being diagnosed before irreversible damage is caused.
Symptoms can often go unnoticed, which is why raising awareness of the condition and the importance of early diagnosis is key to preventing permanent blindness.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the collective term for a group of related eye diseases categorised by damage to the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain). The most common type of glaucoma being chronic open-angle glaucoma, which gradually gets worse over time. It usually occurs due to the build-up of pressure inside your eye.
All eyes should produce and drain a fluid called aqueous humour, but glaucoma sets in when not enough of this is drained away – or too much is produced – causing an increase in pressure. Most cases of glaucoma are symptom-free, making it difficult to be detected until later on in life, but without treatment, it can cause permanent blindness within just a few years of diagnosis.
It’s undetermined as to precisely what causes glaucoma, although there are certain things that can put you at a greater risk of developing the condition. Factors such as age, ethnicity, family history and other medical conditions such as diabetes can all contribute.
What symptoms should you be looking out for?
Glaucoma progresses slowly over time, not affecting your sight immediately, meaning that you may think you don’t need an eye test. However, it’s important to attend regular eye tests to ensure any changes or certain conditions can be spotted as early as possible and treated straight away, to avoid any permanent long-term damage.
There are no symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma, but by the time symptoms appear there has already been a certain degree of damage. The first symptom you are likely to notice is a loss of peripheral vision. This is likely to have an effect on both eyes, although one may be worse than the other. Blank spots may appear in your field of view and even at this stage, the damage to your eye could already be advanced. If you notice this happening to you, visit your optometrist or GP immediately. A less common form of glaucoma can have symptoms including:
– Sudden or intense eye pain
– Redness of the eye
– Tenderness around the eyes
– Seeing rings around lights
– Blurred vision
Again, if you experience any of the above symptoms make sure you book an appointment urgently, advising your GP or optometrist of the symptoms you’re having.
Can glaucoma be treated?
Glaucoma can be identified easily during an eye test – which is why routine eye examinations are vital.
At Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care, you can have an Ultimate Eye Exam, which is like an MOT for your eyes. It involves a number of checks, including checking the pressure inside your eyes, testing peripheral vision and an OCT scan (Optical Coherence Tomography scan). An OCT scan is like an ultrasound for your eyes, taking images of the tissue behind the eye and the many layers of the retina – producing 3D high-definition scans.
Once diagnosed, the treatment you have is dependent on the type of glaucoma you have. Treatments can consist of: eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. Regular eye tests are important after diagnosis so that your optometrists can continue to monitor the condition and check the treatment is working successfully or not.
Remember – early detection is key to early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma.