Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness not only in the UK but worldwide and is often termed the “silent thief of sight” because symptoms don’t usually present until the condition is quite advanced.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition where the pressure of fluid in the eye increases, causing damage to the optic nerve. Your eye pressure may be higher than usual or a weakness in the optic nerve itself could be the cause of damage. The optic nerve is critical for sight because it passes signals from the retina (the light sensitive cells at the back of the brain) to your brain. Without this process we would not be able to see.
You can lose your field of vision with glaucoma, generally in the periphery first but it can affect the central field of vision too.
Managing and Preventing Glaucoma
To reduce the risk of getting glaucoma make sure you book regular eye tests with your optician so they can monitor the pressure in the eye and the general health of the eye. Changes in eye pressure have no symptoms so you won’t be able to notice any fluctuations. If you are at risk of getting glaucoma your optician will pick this up and refer you to an eye surgeon.
If you are using drops, make sure you stick to them regularly as not using your drops could lead to permanent sight loss.
Who Develops Glaucoma?
As you get older the risk of developing glaucoma increases quite significantly. According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, glaucoma occurs in 2% of people over 40, increasing to almost 10% of people over 75.
If you have a first degree family member (parent or sibling) who has glaucoma, the risk of you getting it is also slightly higher. If you have been diagnosed, be sure to inform your family members. If they are over 40 they should book in regular eye tests which are usually free.
If you’re from an African-Caribbean ethnic background, then you may be at a higher risk of developing open angle glaucoma. Being of East Asian origin can also increase your risk for closed angle glaucoma.
Being short‑sighted can increase your risk of developing open angle glaucoma. Closed angle glaucoma is more common in people who are long-sighted.
If you are diabetic or have ever used steroids for a long period of time, this also develops your risk of developing glaucoma.
What Are The Treatment Options For Glaucoma?
Surgical Glaucoma Treatment
Sometimes surgery is needed to treat glaucoma, especially when eye drops are ineffective at bringing the eye pressure down. The way we treat glaucoma has been revolutionised over recent years and a brand of surgery, called Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS) is now available. As the name itself suggests, these surgeries are minimally invasive and have an excellent safety profile whilst also being very effective at lowering the pressure in the eye. In addition, MIGS can easily be combined with cataract surgery which patients often have at the same time as glaucoma.
If the glaucoma is more advanced and hasn’t responded to eye drops or laser treatment, you may have to have a tube shunt or trabeculectomy. These surgeries involve creating a trap-door in the eye to allow the fluid to drain without difficulty. After having a trabeculectomy, most people’s eye pressures come down enough that eye drops may no longer be needed. Your ophthalmologist will be able to let you know if this is the case for you.
Laser Treatment for Glaucoma
There are various laser treatments that are available to treat glaucoma. The aim of laser treatments is to improve the fluid drainage out of the eye which in turn lowers the pressure- one of main risk factors of glaucoma. Laser treatments are safe and the vast majority of people remark that they are virtually painless.
In some instances, laser can prevent the need for glaucoma drops at all, or in patients who are already on glaucoma drops, can reduce the need for drops in the future.