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What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma (sometimes misspelled glycoma) is the silent thief of sight.

There are four main types:

  1. The most common type of glaucoma which develops slowly is chronic open angle glaucoma.
  2. Primary angle closure glaucoma is rare and can occur slowly (chronic) or may develop rapidly (acute) with a sudden, painful build-up of pressure in the eye.
  3. Secondary glaucoma mainly occurs as a result of an eye injury or another eye condition e.g. uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye).
  4. Developmental glaucoma (congenital glaucoma) is also rare but sometimes a serious type of glaucoma which occurs in very young children. It is caused by an abnormality of the eye.

A clear fluid flows continuously in and out of the space at the front of the eye (the anterior chamber) which maintains and nourishes the tissues of the eye. This fluid eventually flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye. Glaucoma develops when the fluid is prevented from leaving the eye as the outflow channels become closed off. This results in a build-up of pressure that in turn affects the vision.

In open angle glaucoma, the fluid passes too slowly and the fluid builds up causing the pressure inside the eye to rise to a level that may damage the optic nerve.

In closed angle glaucoma (also known as primary angle-closure glaucoma (PACG)), the iris and the lens block the movement of fluid between the chambers of the eye. Again pressure builds up and makes the iris press on the eye’s drainage system.

High blood pressure can be another risk factor for optic nerve damage.

Who it Affects

Open-angle glaucoma affects up to two in every 100 people over 40 years old and around five in every 100 people over 80 years old; this is increased where a close family member is affected or if you are of black-African or black-Caribbean origin. People of Asian origin are more at risk of getting acute angle-closure glaucoma compared to those from other ethnic groups.

Glaucoma Symptoms

The most common type of glaucoma gradually destroys peripheral vision, leaving central vision unaffected till late in the disease. An individual is usually not aware that there is a problem until it is well established.

Glaucoma vision

Early detection is therefore not achieved unless glaucoma is discovered on routine examination. As open angle glaucoma seldom occurs before middle age, it is most often detected by an optician during the course of an examination of an individual who has reached the age at which reading glasses are required. People who discover that their reading is much improved by the use of simple magnifying glasses should nonetheless have their eyes tested by an optician to avoid the possibility of early glaucoma remaining undetected.

As we are all at risk we should undergo sight testing every couple of years to allow an optician to check for the condition.

Glaucoma Treatment

Early treatment can be successful in preventing loss of sight. But early diagnosis is important because any damage to the eyes cannot be reversed. Treatment aims to control the condition and minimise future damage.

Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops which lower the pressure in the eye. Eye drops will very often control the pressure indefinitely. Where eye drops are ineffective, laser treatment or surgery may be employed.

Where the pressure is slightly raised and there is no evidence of any damage, an individual may be considered to be a ‘glaucoma suspect’ or so-called ‘ocular hypertensive’, requiring close surveillance with treatment being withheld. This wait-and-see policy can be justified as an incorrect diagnosis could subject an individual to a lifetime of unnecessary treatment.

Glaucoma Prevention

Incorporating an increased intake of good quality fruits and vegetables into the diet to provide the antioxidants needed to help counter the damaging effects of free radicle damage may help in the battle against Glaucoma.

Don’t forget to undergo sight testing every couple of years to allow an optician to check for the condition.

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Further Information

    1. Facts About Glaucoma:
    2. What is Glaucoma? Explained using Animation:
    3. Glaucoma Symptoms & Treatments: What Is Glaucoma?

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