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Glaucoma – Causes, symptoms and treatment

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Glaucoma is a common eye condition where the optic nerve becomes damaged, usually caused by the pressure of the fluid within your eye. According to the Glaucoma foundation, it is reported that an estimated 60.5 million people around the world are affected.  If it isn’t diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to loss of vision.

The different types

Depending on its cause or symptoms, glaucoma can come in a variety of forms:

Primary open angle

Affecting around 1-2% of people over 40, this is the most common form of glaucoma. It is estimated that half of these people suffering are completely unaware that they have the condition. In the UK, this type accounts for around 12% of all people registered with severe visual impairment.

Closed angle

This is more uncommon and has a rapid onset. You’re likely to experience severe eye pain or blurred vision as a result of drainage in the eye suddenly becoming blocked.

Secondary

This form of glaucoma can be caused by an existing eye condition, such as uveitis or an injury/trauma to the eye.

Childhood glaucoma (congenital)

A rare type that typically occurs in very young children and is caused by an abnormality of how the eye drains internal fluids.

Who is at risk?

Old person wearing glasses

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Almost anyone can develop this condition, however it is more common in:

  • People aged over 70
  • People with ocular hypertension
  • A family with a history of the condition
  • People of African, Caribbean, or Asian descent

The symptoms

It can be hard to notice any symptoms, as the most common form of glaucoma develops over a number of years and usually begins in your peripheral vision.

Peripheral vision is your ability to see objects out of the corner of your eye. We don’t really rely on it as much as our immediate vision, which means you’re less likely to notice when it’s failing.

Illuminated light patterns

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A sudden onset of glaucoma is likely to present the following symptoms:

  • Red eye
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Intense eye pain
  • Seeing halos around light sources

If you experience any of these symptoms suddenly, we recommend that you visit your nearest A&E or eye casualty unit.

Can I avoid it?

Unfortunately, there is not a definitive way to prevent glaucoma. However, once diagnosed, there are various methods that can be carried out to slow progression. The earlier that the condition is diagnosed, the more effective treatment can be.

Standard eye tests normally check for signs of glaucoma, and its recommended to have a vision check-up at least once every two years (or sooner depending on your optician’s advice).

Is there treatment or a cure?

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There isn’t a cure for glaucoma yet, but there are many ways in which the pressure can be relieved to help slow down progression.

The treatment that you’ll need depends on the type of glaucoma that you have, but it’s likely to be carried out with eye drops, injections, laser treatment and/or surgery. Once treatment begins, you can expect frequently scheduled appointments to monitor the condition and ensure that treatment is effective.

If left untreated, this condition can unfortunately lead to permanent vision loss.