What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common eye problem that causes vision loss and, if untreated, can cause blindness.
Usually the deterioration is very gradual and not noticeable, so regular eye examinations are recommended for people from middle age.
Once detected, glaucoma can be treated to prevent or delay further vision damage.
What are the types of glaucoma?
There are 4 types of glaucoma:
- open angle — where this is no obvious problem, but the fluid pressure builds up
- angle closure — where the fluid stops circulating and the fluid pressure builds up quickly, causing pain in the eye and fairly sudden loss of vision
- normal pressure — where the eye pressure hasn't changed, but the optic nerve is still damaged
- secondary — where glaucoma arises after inflammation, injury, or surgery to the eye
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Most people with glaucoma have few to no symptoms until their eyesight is damaged.
People with angle closure glaucoma can get blurred vision, pain and a red eye, and might see haloes around bright lights.
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What causes glaucoma?
Doctors don’t clearly understand why glaucoma happens.
Glaucoma refers to a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve that links the eye to the brain.
The optic nerve carries signals from the back of your eye to the brain and allows you to see. Nerve damage often has something to do with the fluid in the eye.
Sometimes, the pressure of the fluid inside the eye rises, and the fluid presses hard on the optic nerve, damaging it. But glaucoma can also occur even when the fluid pressure in the eye is normal.
Who is at risk of glaucoma?
You are at higher risk of developing glaucoma if you:
- have a close relative with glaucoma
- have high eye pressure
- are over 50
- are short-sighted or long-sighted
- use cortisone (steroid) medications for long periods
- have diabetes
- have high or low blood pressure
- have migraine headaches
- have had an eye operation or eye injury
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
They will look at the nerve fibres and the structure of the eye drainage network, test the field of vision and measure the eye pressure. This examination will take 20 to 45 minutes.
If you are of African or Asian descent, these regular examinations should start at age 40. Otherwise, you should start them at age 50.
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How is glaucoma treated?
If you have angle-closure glaucoma, treatment will need to be provided quickly to reduce the pressure. This may be done with eye drops or intravenous medication. You may also need surgery.
Nerve cells damaged by glaucoma can’t be repaired. Treatment is designed to prevent or slow further damage, mainly by reducing the pressure in the eye. This involves:
- eye drops or medicine
- laser surgery or other surgery to open or create a new drainage channel
Glaucoma surgery is usually a day or outpatient procedure. You might have a local anaesthetic (such as eye drops) or a general anaesthetic. Your surgeon will explain to you the preferred type of surgery and anaesthetic for your condition.
Can glaucoma be prevented?
Unfortunately, while it can be managed, glaucoma can’t be prevented.
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Last reviewed: December 2019