What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition where the pressure in the eye increases which causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is critical for sight because it passes signals from the retina (the light sensitive cells at the back of the eye) to your brain. Without this process we would not be able to see.

Glaucoma can lead to a loss in your vision if untreated. The visual loss is usually slow and often has no symptoms. This is why glaucoma is also known as the ‘silent thief of sight’. More commonly the peripheral visual field is lost first but glaucoma can affect the central field of vision too.

In this video, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon Gokulan Ratnarajan explains what is glaucoma, what are the symptoms, how is it diagnosed and what are the treatment options available. Mr Ratnarajan brings innovation in glaucoma care to the UK to help treat glaucoma patients with safer and more effective treatments.

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Managing and Preventing Glaucoma

Early detection is key. Make sure you have regular eye tests with your optician so they can monitor the pressure in the eye as well as check 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 (Ophthalmologist).

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 higher. If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, be sure to inform your family members. If they are over 40 they should have yearly eye tests which are free of charge.

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 increases your risk of developing glaucoma.

What Are The Treatment Options For Glaucoma?

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 eye pressure, which is the main risk factor for glaucoma. Laser treatments are safe and non-invasive.

In some instances, laser can prevent the need for glaucoma drops, or in patients who are already on glaucoma drops, can reduce the need for drops in the future.

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 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 require a tube shunt or trabeculectomy. These surgeries involve bypassing the eye’s damaged drainage structures and creating a “bleb” to lower the eye pressure. These surgeries are more involved than MIGS but are usually very effective of lowering the eye pressure down to a level where the glaucoma should no longer progress.

Your Ophthalmologist will guide you as to which treatment options are most suitable for you.

This page was written by The McIndoe Centre, in collaboration with Gokulan Ratnarajan BSc MBBS FRCOphth MD Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon. All information, advice and procedures were updated on 30th January, 2020.

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