Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Optometrist examining female patient in ophthalmology clinic.

Optometrist examining female patient in ophthalmology clinic.
beginning of content

Glaucoma

3-minute read

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 is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name of a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve that links the eye to the brain. Doctors don’t clearly understand why glaucoma happens.

The direct physical cause is that the optic nerve becomes damaged. This 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.

You are more likely to develop glaucoma as you get older. And you are slightly more likely to have glaucoma if a close relative has it. It is also more common in people of African or Asian descent than others.

illustration comparing a healthy eye with an eye with glaucoma
Cross-section of a healthy eye and an eye with glaucoma

Types of glaucoma

There are different types of glaucoma.

In primary open angle glaucoma, there is no obvious problem, but the fluid pressure builds up.

In angle closure glaucoma, the fluid stops circulating and the fluid pressure builds up quickly, causing pain in the eye and fairly sudden loss of vision.

Some people get normal pressure glaucoma, where the eye pressure hasn’t changed, but the optic nerve is still damaged.

Glaucoma may also arise after inflammation, injury or surgery to the eye. This is called secondary glaucoma.

Symptoms of glaucoma

People with angle closure glaucoma can get blurred vision, pain and a red eye, and might see haloes around bright lights. They can also feel nauseous, with headaches and vomiting.

Most people with glaucoma have few to no symptoms until their eyesight is damaged.

Prevention and diagnosis of glaucoma

Unfortunately, glaucoma can’t be prevented. But an optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect it early on if you have regular eye examinations every 2 to 3 years. 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.

You should be particularly careful about glaucoma if you:

Treatment of glaucoma

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.

Last reviewed: November 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases in which increased pressure in the front of the eye causes damage to the optic nerve at the back of the eye.

Read more on WA Health website

I Have Glaucoma - Glaucoma Australia

One of the most important contributions you can make to protect your vision is to take your medication as prescribed and monitor your glaucoma by attending scheduled review appointments. As glaucoma treatment can become ineffective over time, ongoing testing is crucial to best protect your vision.

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Glaucoma and Uveitis

Not all forms of glaucoma are the same. Some patients experience a condition of inflammation within the eye and as a result of this inflammation glaucoma can develop. This is termed uveitic glaucoma.

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Glaucoma detection

How is glaucoma detected

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Types of Glaucoma

The term Glaucoma refers to a characteristic pattern of damage to the optic nerve which currently cannot be reversed. For all types of glaucoma, early detection and prompt effective treatment is vital to reduce visual damage.

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Glaucoma | Vision Initiative

Information about glaucoma

Read more on Vision Initiative website

Glaucoma Stories - Glaucoma Australia

Stories from friends and supporters highlighting their personal journeys through diagnosis and living with glaucoma.

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Glaucoma treatment in pregnancy

Glaucoma medications adjustment or stopping during pregnancy

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Thyroid Disease and Glaucoma

Thyroid disease can be a cause of secondary glaucoma

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Glaucoma Progression

Most people with glaucoma are able to manage their condition successfully with the use of eye drops and at times, laser treatment.

Read more on Glaucoma Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo