Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye conditions which affect the optic nerve and disturbs your peripheral vision. If left untreated glaucoma can lead to total loss of sight.

An estimated half a million people suffer from glaucoma in England and Wales alone with people aged 40 and over at greatest risk of being affected by the condition. Studies have shown that half of all cases of glaucoma remain undiagnosed.

The most common form of the disease is open angle glaucoma (also known as chronic glaucoma). A blockage in the drainage of aqueous fluid between the front of the iris and the back of the cornea leads to a gradual build up of pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure). This can happen in either one of the eyes and often affects both simultaneously.

Acute angle glaucoma is less common and occurs when the rise in intraocular pressure is rapid and intense. You will have a very painful red eye with very reduced vision. The pain may be so severe that you may be vomiting.

Diagnosis of Chronic Glaucoma

Your local optician can diagnose glaucoma during a routine sight test. The optometrist will use an ophthalmoscope to check the appearance of the optic nerve. A tonometer is used to measure intraocular pressure and a sequence of spot lights on a perimeter are used to ascertain the breadth of your visual fields. In addition, a photograph of the inside of your eye (retina) may also be taken using a fundus camera. All of these procedures are painless and will take a matter of minutes to perform (some of the tests may incur an extra fee).

Treatment

Early diagnosis is key to effective treatment so it is vital that at risk groups - especially the elderly and people aged 40 plus who have a close relative with glaucoma - take up their entitlement to free eye examinations on the NHS. A sufferer may not notice the loss of peripheral vision until the damage is already well advanced.

Open angle glaucoma can be controlled with treatment designed to lower intraocular pressure and prevent any further damage being done to the optic nerve. Treatment may be prescribed before you have noticed that your vision is impaired.

Most cases can be simply treated using a single, or a combination of therapeutic eye drops that help reduce the production of fluid within the eye and thin the fluid so that it flows more readily. Laser treatment can be used to help improve the filtration system inside the eye. This surgery won't usually require an overnight stay in hospital. Patients may need to continue taking low dose eye drops even after lasertreatment or surgery.