What you need to know about glaucoma
World Glaucoma Week takes place between March 10-16th. During this week, awareness is raised about this serious and highly prevalent condition. Glaucoma is severely underreported with many people unaware they have the condition. So, in this blog, we'll raise awareness of the following: how is glaucoma is diagnosed, how it is treated and how it can be prevented.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is also known as a 'green cataract'. Glaucoma is the collective term for a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve cells deteriorate slowly over time, usually due to increased eye pressure. Your optic nerve is incredibly important to normal eye functioning, as it ensures that information is sent from your eyes to your brain so that you can form an accurate image of what you see.
Glaucoma if left to spread without treatment can, unfortunately, lead to blindness. But if glaucoma is detected at an early stage, damage to the optic nerve can be prevented with treatment.
How does glaucoma develop?
Most varieties of glaucoma develop due to a blockage in the supply and discharge of the fluid in the eyeball. This creates increased eye pressure which damages the optic nerve. If the pressure rises too much, damage can occur to the optic nerve and therefore also vision may become impaired.
Who is at risk?
It's possible to develop glaucoma at any age, but there are people who are more at risk than others.
- Glaucoma usually occurs in the over 40s
- People with a family history of glaucoma
- People of African heritage
People can have chronic glaucoma for a long time without noticing it. In the first stage, there are usually no symptoms. Sometimes people with glaucoma suffer from headaches, eye pain or blurred vision. But usually, someone notices that something is wrong when their field of view has drastically decreased.
The image on the right shows what text looks like for a person with glaucoma.
Chronic and acute glaucoma
Glaucoma occurs in a chronic form and in an acute form:
- Chronic - this form of glaucoma is much more common. Chronic glaucoma can be treated effectively when caught at an early stage, but unfortunately, many people often do not realize that their vision has deteriorated.
- Acute - this form of glaucoma is not common, but must be treated quickly. In acute glaucoma, increased eye pressure causes severe pain in the eye. In addition, headaches, nausea and vomiting may occur.
If you have your eyes checked regularly (at least once a year) glaucoma can easily be detected. When glaucoma is discovered at an early stage, it can be treated before your eyes are severely damaged. There are different ways in which the optician or the ophthalmologist can detect if you have glaucoma. The most common methods of detecting glaucoma are:
- Eye pressure measurement - this research is painless and takes less than a minute. Your eye pressure is not the same all day, but varies from hour to hour. In order to determine glaucoma with certainty, the pressure is measured at different times throughout the day.
- Gonioscopy - with this research, the ophthalmologist can examine where fluids are drained from the eye to see if there is an opening or blockage. To do this, a mirrored lens is used with anaesthetic drops.
- Perimetry - this test is also known as a field of view investigation. This checks whether parts of the field of view have deteriorated. The ophthalmologist shows a series of bright spots and the patient is asked to identify the spots. Some of these dots fall into the peripheral field of vision of the patient, this is the first part of the vision that is affected when someone has glaucoma.
How can glaucoma be treated?
- Eye drops - help to reduce the pressure in your eyes. These drops work in different ways. Some reduce the amount of fluid that is produced in the eyes. Other drops ensure that the drainage of moisture is continuous.
- Medicine - certain tablets can also be prescribed which have the same effect as the eye drops.
- Operation - an operation may be required in some cases. Laser treatment may be necessary to reopen closed drain tubes or to reduce the production of moisture in the eyes. It is also possible that surgery is needed to improve fluid drainage in the eyes.
Especially when there are risk factors for glaucoma, it is advisable to have your eyes checked regularly. Early diagnosis of glaucoma can prevent further damage to your eye. The longer the glaucoma can develop, the greater the impact it has on your eye. So, if you have not had your eyes tested in the past two years, make sure you make an appointment as soon as possible.