5 min

WHAT ISGLAUCOMA?

what is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye conditions that cause sight loss because of damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain. Around 80 million people live with glaucoma, making it the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Damage to the optic nerve can’t be reversed. Glaucoma damage can be prevented if detected and treated early. However, any sight loss is irreversible. There are different types of glaucoma, and increased eye pressure and age are important risk factors.

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What causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is often (but not always) linked to high eye pressure. Our eyes contain a fluid called aqueous humour, which helps them hold their shape. Our eye pressure can rise when this fluid no longer drains away fast enough. (Note: Glaucoma can also occur in people with normal eye pressure.)

Why some people develop glaucoma and others don’t isn’t fully understood. Age is the most significant risk factor, with almost 10% of people over 75 having glaucoma. Close family relatives and people from certain ethnicities (such as African, Caribbean, or Asian origin) are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma.

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“Our eyes contain a fluid called aqueous humour. Glaucoma occurs when this fluid doesn’t drain away fast enough, causing the pressure in our eyes to rise, damaging the optic nerve and causing sight loss.”

PROFESSOR MARCUS FRUTTIGER, UCL & MOORFIELDS EYE HOSPITAL, CO-FOUNDER AT MTHK

the 5 main types of glaucoma
  • This is the most common form. It happens when the eye’s drainage channels gradually become clogged and tends to develop slowly over many years. It’s also the type most associated with old age. It is also slightly more common in people of African-Caribbean descent.
  • When your eye pressure rises suddenly, this can lead to acute damage to the optic nerve. It’s much less common than primary open-angle glaucoma and tends to affect people of East Asian origin more. (Also known as closed-angle glaucoma.)
  • Occurs due to something else in the body or eyes, such as side-effect from certain medications, another underlying eye condition like uveitis (inflammation of the eye), or an eye injury.
  • This is diagnosed despite eye pressure being normal. Why it happens isn’t entirely clear, but some people’s optic nerves may be more fragile.
  • Also known as childhood glaucoma, is when the condition is present from birth due to an abnormality within the eye.
  • Symptoms of glaucoma

    Glaucoma tends to develop slowly and often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms until the damage has already occurred. Sometimes people experience acute glaucoma, which causes a sudden onset of severe eye pain and blurred vision.

    When glaucoma does cause symptoms, these might include:

    • Blurred and reduced vision starts with peripheral vision (outer edges) and develops very slowly.
    • Seeing rings and rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights.
    • Severe eye pain that comes on suddenly. This might be accompanied by redness and tenderness of the eye and surrounding area, plus a headache, nausea and vomiting.
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    “Glaucoma can usually be spotted when you have an eye test. Tests for glaucoma often start with an eye pressure test. An optometrist should also examine the front part of the eye to see if they can spot any issues with fluid drainage or blockages.”

    PROFESSOR MARCUS FRUTTIGER, UCL & MOORFIELDS EYE HOSPITAL, CO-FOUNDER AT MTHK

    diagnosis

    Glaucoma is usually diagnosed during regular eye tests. Tests for glaucoma often start with an eye pressure test. An optometrist will also examine the front part of the eye to see whether they can spot any issues with fluid drainage, such as a blockage.

    Visual field tests are also carried out to see whether there’s any loss of peripheral vision, and the optic nerve will be assessed too. This sometimes involves eye drops or an eye scan so the optometrist can look closely at the eye.

    Patients with suspected glaucoma will be referred to a specialist to confirm the diagnosis and assess the level of damage.

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    treatments for glaucoma
  • Prescription eye drops that reduce the amount of fluid produced in the eye or improve fluid drainage.
  • Laser treatment, under local anaesthetic as an outpatient, is a fairly standard procedure to help lower eye pressure.
  • Trabeculectomy is a surgical procedure only required in a small number of cases. A specialist surgeon will create a new drainage channel within the eye to improve fluid drainage.
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