What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a collective term used to refer to a variety of eyesight conditions where the optic nerve is damaged at the point where it departs from the eye. This is caused gradually by the pressure of the eye’s fluid upon the nerve, and can often be explained by an abnormal level of pressure on the eye or a significant weakness in the optic nerve. A squeezing effect upon the optic nerve kills nerve fibres. If untreated, tunnel vision and a loss of central vision can occur.
Glaucoma is frequently characterised by its symptomless nature: any vision loss as a result of the condition cannot be corrected or recovered. However, early diagnosis, consistent monitoring and a commitment to recommended treatment can significantly reduce the chances of further vision loss. This is one of the many reasons why Cathedral Eye Clinic advocates regular eye tests (at least once every two years, as recommended by the NHS).
Whilst glaucoma detection rates are rapidly improving, the symptomless nature of the condition in its earliest stages means that many patients will be heading towards vision loss, unaware that they are suffering from it. Indeed, the National Eye Research Centre claims that the cost of glaucoma treatment in the UK will have increased by over £100 million by the year 2050.
Like many eye conditions, glaucoma is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups: patients from white European communities are more likely to suffer from the condition (2% of patients aged over 40, and 10% of patients aged over 75).
Types of Glaucoma
As previously mentioned, glaucoma is used to refer to a group of eyesight conditions which involve optic nerve damage. However, it is generally accepted that the condition comes in two main forms: chronic glaucoma and acute glaucoma.
- Chronic glaucoma: This form of glaucoma develops slowly, in what is a gradual degenerative process. This is the most common form of the condition in the UK and usually comes as primary open angle glaucoma (POAG).
- Acute glaucoma: This form of glaucoma can develop quickly, due to a rapid building of eye pressure upon the optic nerve. This form of the condition is frequently referred to as acute angle closure glaucoma.
In its earliest stages, glaucoma is a largely symptomless condition:
- Chronic glaucoma: No symptoms can be felt by the patient when chronic glaucoma is in its early stages of development. This point highlights the importance of regular eye tests, which will be able to quickly detect the condition. However, in the later stages of chronic glaucoma, patients often experience blurring in the periphery of their vision.
- Acute glaucoma: The rapid nature of acute glaucoma’s development can cause patients to experience brief periods of discomfort, often accompanied by blurred vision. This is frequently noticed at night time or when in dimly lit areas (these are times when the pupils grow larger). Other symptoms of acute glaucoma include a persistent ache in the eye, as well as vomiting, nausea and red eyes. Visual disturbances are also common acute glaucoma symptoms, and can include halos (seeing white rings around sources of light), as well as ‘misty’ vision. Patients experiencing these symptoms should seek the advice of an optometrist immediately in order to reduce any further vision damage.
In any case, glaucoma requires immediate treatment to avoid further vision loss:
- Chronic glaucoma: In the event where an optometrist suspects glaucoma, a referral to an ophthalmologist for diagnosis will occur. Whilst there is no complete cure for chronic glaucoma, the condition can be effectively managed by inserting eye drops on a daily basis, thereby reducing the pressure of your eye upon the optic nerve. Whilst taking the eye drops will not improve your vision, it is essential to follow this treatment path in order to avoid further vision loss.
- Acute glaucoma: In cases of acute glaucoma, it is absolutely crucial to seek medical advice immediately. An optometrist or ophthalmologist will first seek to reduce the pressure within the eye (this is normally achieved using a combination of eye drops and intravenous injections). Following this step, an ophthalmologist may use eye laser surgery techniques to effectively bypass the eye’s drainage system, preventing the condition from worsening or coming back.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Anyone can develop glaucoma. However, like all medical conditions, glaucoma is more prevalent in certain groups of people:
- The over-40’s: Glaucoma is widely accepted to be most prevalent in patients over the age of 40, where it occurs in 2% of the population. The likelihood of developing glaucoma is dramatically heightened in patients over the age of 75, where it occurs in 10% of the population.
- Genetics: Family history of glaucoma can significantly heighten your risk of developing the condition (like all medical conditions). Patients who have a close relative (parent, sibling or child) with glaucoma should undergo an eye examination at least once a year to monitor the condition.
- Ethnicity: Patients from an Afro-Caribbean ethnicity come at a significantly higher risk of developing open-angle glaucoma. Patients of this ethnicity are also more likely to develop the condition earlier on in life. Meanwhile, patients of an East Asian ethnicity are significantly more likely to develop closed-angle glaucoma.
- Other eyesight impairments: Other eyesight prescriptions, including myopia (also known as ‘short-sightedness’) may increase a patient’s risk of developing open-angle glaucoma.
- Other medical conditions: Other medical conditions, especially diabetes, can increase your risk of developing forms of glaucoma.
- Drug use: Extended use of steroid-based drugs can significantly increase your risk of developing the condition.
Glaucoma can be detected during Cathedral Eye Clinic’s meticulous pre-assessment examination, which includes an advanced 11-dimension eye scanner.
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