Glaucoma is a group of neurodegenerative eye conditions that affect the eyes optic nerve. Contained in the eyeball is a fluid called aqueous humour. Aqueous humour is constantly produced by the eye, and any excess fluid is drained through tubes. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain, if the fluid does not drain, this causes the build-up of fluid inside the eye. Thus, leading to an increase in pressure, damaging the optic nerve. The damage done to the nerve worsens over time and can lead to loss of sight if not diagnosed and treated early.
The condition is generally inherited. This means if you have family members who have glaucoma, you are more likely than the rest of the general population to suffer from the condition. Glaucoma also tends to be an age-related condition that generally doesn’t show up until later in life for most people. People of Africa, Caribbean or Asian origin are at a higher risk of getting glaucoma. You also might be more at risk of this condition if you have other medical conditions such as short-sightedness, long-sightedness or diabetes. The condition can affect either one or both eyes, sometimes to varying degrees.
What is the first sign of glaucoma?
Like most eye conditions, people look to early symptoms to determine if they are developing glaucoma. However, most people with Glaucoma experience no symptoms or any type of pain or changes to vision in the early stages. In order to spot any eye conditions, it is important to have an eye test on a regular basis.
In the case of Chronic glaucoma or Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma, the damage to your vision begins on the outer sections of the eye and moves inwards. If you do not attend regular eye exams at your optician, it may not be spotted until it begins to reach the middle/centre points of your vision. With acute glaucoma – which is very rare – it develops rapidly, triggering a painful build-up of pressure in the eye, causing severe eye pain, red eye, headache, nausea. This requires urgent medical attention.
Other than inheriting the condition, there are also other factors that increase the likely hood to you having glaucoma.
You are more likely to suffer from glaucoma if you are:
- - A woman
- - Over 40 years old
- - Have high myopia
- - Have hypertension/high blood pressure
- - Diabetic
- - Long-sighted
- - Family history
- - Are on steroid medication
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Glaucoma can be diagnosed during a normal eye test; the optician will also look at your entire eye and its internal structure. Your optician will perform a series of test which are quick and painless. There are four main tests done to diagnose glaucoma:
Optic nerve assessment
Your optic nerve is the most affected organ when suffering from glaucoma, during your examination, it is photographed using a highly sensitive retinal camera. This is referred to as DRP or digital retinal photography. The images captured will be used as a constant reference during future checks and the differences, if any, will be registered.
Visual field test
During a visual field test, you will be exposed to a sequence to light spots, then asked which ones you are able to see. You should be able to see the dots in your peripheral vision, if you cannot this is an indication that glaucoma has begun to damage your eyesight.
Eye pressure tests (tonometry)
An eye pressure test uses an instrument called a tonometer. This is required to measure intraocular pressure i.e. the pressure inside of your eye.
OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography)
OCT scans are highly useful for their ability to detect certain condition up to four years earlier than more traditional scanning and imaging methods. Similar to an MRI scan, it will produce a 3D-like image of the internal structure of your eye. Your optician will monitor and record any visible changes over time.
How is glaucoma treated and is there a cure for glaucoma?
Glaucoma can be treated; however, early detection is important, so any damage to the eye can be greatly minimised or prevented If left untreated, it can get progressively worse.
There is not full-proof cure, however, early detection and prevention are key for dealing with the condition. Once you have been diagnosed, you will be informed what caused the condition, at what stage your condition has developed and the next course of action.
The most common form of treatment for Glaucoma are daily eye drops, that reduce the pressure in the eyes. You must also continue to attend regular appointments to see your eye doctor who will monitor the condition of your eyes.
Are there contact lenses for glaucoma?
There are no specific contact lenses that are designed to correct the effects of glaucoma. If you suffer from other refractive errors, you may still wear your contact lenses under the supervision and recommendation of your optician.
Can I drive if I have glaucoma?
Whether or not you can drive if you have glaucoma depends on how much your eyes have been affected. As with all eye conditions, you must alert the DVLA if you are suffering from glaucoma or risk a fine. Speak with your optician and discuss whether or not it is appropriate for you to drive if you suffer from an eye condition.
Can you take vitamins for glaucoma?
There is very minimal and mostly inconclusive evidence as to whether or not vitamins can improve vision or protect against further vision loss. Dietary supplements are a way of maintaining your overall health and should be taken as a compliment to an overall healthy diet.
Can I get a free eye test if I have glaucoma?
Yes, you can get a free eye test if you have or at risk of glaucoma. Under the NHS you are eligible for a free eye test in relation to glaucoma if:
- - You have been formally advised by an ophthalmologist that you are at risk of developing glaucoma.
- - You are over the age of 40 and your father, mother, sibling/s or birth child has been diagnosed with glaucoma.
- - You have been formally diagnosed by a doctor or ophthalmologist with diabetes or glaucoma.