Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. Over 600,000 people in the UK alone have glaucoma, with many more living with the condition who are yet to be diagnosed.
When people look online for any medical, surgical or illness-related information, it can often be quite daunting — and sometimes even inaccurate.
At The McIndoe Centre, one of our main priorities is to educate our patients on the procedures we perform. We believe that by doing this, our patients can become their own health advocates and develop a better understanding of our practices.
In this article, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at glaucoma — and in particular, glaucoma symptoms. We’ll be covering the different types of glaucoma and the symptoms, as well as the possible treatments for glaucoma.
For a more general guide to glaucoma, visit our ‘What is glaucoma? ’ article.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which damage to the optic nerve causes problems with vision and vision loss.
Glaucoma is usually caused by fluid build-up in the eye resulting in abnormally high pressure. However, there are some other causes of glaucoma .
Glaucoma is a common condition and one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. It mostly affects people in their seventies and over, but people of any age can get glaucoma.
There are different types of glaucoma which have different causes, symptoms and treatments which we cover below.
How common is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common eye condition, particularly in older people. In the UK there are thought to be half a million people with glaucoma but there are many people who have glaucoma that do not know they have it.
Unfortunately, it is one of the most common causes of blindness world-wide.
If glaucoma runs in your family or you are older, you have a higher risk of suffering from glaucoma.
Regular eye check-ups and being aware of what glaucoma symptoms are can help to prevent sight damage before it is too late.
There are many different forms of glaucoma, and symptoms can vary depending on the type you have, as well as how far along your condition is. That being said, glaucoma symptoms tend to remain very similar.
It is important that patients are able to recognise possible glaucoma symptoms and identify the different types in order to act accordingly.
In each section below, we’ve covered the key glaucoma symptoms for each type, and what you should look out for.
Open-angle glaucoma symptoms
The name given to the most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma (though it is sometimes called primary open-angle glaucoma). This is arguably the most dangerous form of glaucoma because it usually goes unnoticed for a long time due to the slow-building symptoms.
Open-angle glaucoma is caused by your eye’s drainage channels clogging up over time. This causes pressure to build up in the eye, damaging the optic nerve and causing problems with vision.
There are typically no early warning signs or open-angle glaucoma symptoms to look out for.
However, sufferers may notice these open-angle glaucoma symptoms:
- Blurring or loss of vision in your peripheral (side) vision ) — you might start missing things out of the corner of your eye
- Patchy blind spots in peripheral vision
- Seeing rainbow-coloured circles or halos around lights
- In advanced stages, tunnel vision (vision starts to narrow and disappear)
If you have open-angle glaucoma, you may have the symptoms for years before you realise that your eyesight is deteriorating.
That’s why it’s important to have your eyes tested at least twice a year (or once a year if recommended) to ensure your eyes are in good health.
Closed-angle glaucoma symptoms
Closed-angle glaucoma — also known as acute angle-closure glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma — is a less common type of glaucoma.
This is caused when the fluid in the eye suddenly becomes blocked, which sees the pressure inside the eye rise at a dangerously fast rate.
This type of glaucoma requires immediate medical attention due to how quickly it can impact your vision.
Closed-angle glaucoma symptoms include:
- Severe headaches
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Seeing rainbow-coloured halos or rings around lights
- Eye redness
- Sudden loss of sight
These closed-angle glaucoma symptoms can affect both or just one eye.
If you experience any of the symptoms above — particularly if they develop suddenly — you must treat this as an emergency. Seek medical attention straight away at either your nearest A&E or eye casualty unit.
Secondary glaucoma symptoms
Secondary glaucoma is the name given to any type of glaucoma where there’s an identifiable underlying problem, such as a medical condition or trauma. For example, inflammation of the eye (uveitis) may cause secondary glaucoma, whereas primary glaucoma isn’t caused by any previous eye conditions.
Secondary glaucoma symptoms may include:
- Loss of field vision
- Cloudy vision
- Aching eyes
- Difficulty using the stairs
However, these secondary glaucoma symptoms tend to appear as the glaucoma progresses; during early stages, there may be no symptoms at all.
Secondary glaucoma is normally picked up either through routine eye check-ups, or when the underlying health condition is identified and treated.
Normal-tension glaucoma symptoms
Most of the time, glaucoma is caused by an increase in pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve.
However, in some cases, glaucoma can occur when internal eye pressure is normal. This results in normal-tension glaucoma (which can also be referred to as normal-pressure or low-tension glaucoma). Experts aren’t sure why this type of glaucoma happens.
As with open-angle glaucoma, normal-tension glaucoma often doesn’t have any obvious warning signs or symptoms in the early stages.
However, here are some normal-tension glaucoma symptoms that may be experienced:
- Loss of peripheral vision (often the first sign)
- Blind spots in your vision
- Tunnel vision
These symptoms (particularly the last two) appear in the later stages of normal-tension glaucoma. It’s really important to get the condition diagnosed and treated before then to avoid any permanent vision loss and blindness.
Normal-tension glaucoma worsens gradually, so you may not notice anything wrong at all for a long time. That’s why it is so important to attend regular eye examinations with your optician.
Congenital glaucoma symptoms
While glaucoma is usually associated with age, children are also at risk. Childhood glaucoma — otherwise known as congenital glaucoma — is caused by an abnormality of the eye.
This is another rare type of glaucoma. It is present at birth, but is usually diagnosed within the first year of a child’s life. Sometimes it can be diagnosed as late as the age of three.
One cause of congenital glaucoma might be due to the eye’s drainage system not developing properly. In some cases, it can be inherited.
Congenital glaucoma symptoms and signs to look out for in your child include:
- Unusually large eyes (one or both eyes may be larger than normal)
- Excessive tearing
- Closes eyelids a lot (as if protecting their eye)
- Light sensitivity — your child seems to be painfully sensitive to light
- Cloudy eyes
If you notice any of these congenital glaucoma symptoms in your infant, speak to your doctor. They will be able to run some tests and go from there. The vast majority of the time, congenital glaucoma can be treated and children won’t experience any vision problems in the future.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Fortunately, glaucoma is a condition that can be spotted during a routine eye check-up. This is why it is so important to visit your optician regularly. We recommend visiting your optician at least once a year (or more depending on your current eye condition).
Routine checks are often quick and painless, usually involving simple vision tests and measurements of your eye pressure. If your optician finds that you may have developed glaucoma symptoms they will refer you to an eye specialist.
The specialist will take you through the various treatment options available and ways you can prevent the condition from worsening.
When to contact a doctor
We advise that if you are experiencing any issues with your eyes, such as blurred or deteriorating vision, you should visit your optician or GP.
However, having blurred vision is not a direct sign that you have glaucoma — it's simply a sign that you're due for a check-up just to ensure that there are no underlying problems.
If you have experienced a sudden loss of vision without any obvious explanation, it’s strongly advised that you visit the nearest A&E department, or eye casualty unit.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, there are glaucoma treatment options that can prevent you from suffering further vision impairment.
The most common treatment options consist of eye drops, laser treatment and surgery. Your treatment options will depend on the type of glaucoma you have.
These treatments all help to reduce the build-up of pressure in your eyes, reduce fluid production in your eyes and open blocked drainage tubes to further reduce fluid build-up in your eyes.
At The McIndoe Centre, we offer safe and effective treatments for glaucoma patients. You can find out more on our glaucoma treatment page or arrange a consultation with us to discuss the best glaucoma treatment option for you.
If you have any further questions about glaucoma please do not hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team today. Alternatively, you can call our free Private Patient Advisory Team for more information and professional advice on 01342 488054.