Glaucoma Awareness Week 2019

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of sight impairment in the UK and yet early symptoms often go undetected. As it is Glaucoma Awareness Week 2019 in this blog we answer some of the FAQs surrounding this condition…

What causes glaucoma?

Glaucoma is usually triggered by a build-up of eye pressure. The increase in pressure can damage the optic nerve which sends images from the eye to the brain.

It affects the surrounding edges of the vision (peripheral vision) initially, and so is often only picked up during an eye examination.

The video below from the College of Optometrists shows how the condition can impact vision.

It can affect people of all ages but is most common in adults in their 70s and 80s. It is not always clear why some people develop glaucoma.  Certain factors can increase the risk such as your age, ethnicity, prescription, genetics and other health issues. For example, people with diabetes are almost 50% more likely to develop glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

There are different types of glaucoma, the most common, known as primary open angle glaucoma (POAG), is painless and caused by the drainage channels in the eye becoming progressively congested. Unfortunately, often by the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the condition can be quite advanced.

Acute angle closure glaucoma is when the pressure inside the eye rises very quickly, it is less common and can be very painful.

Congenital glaucoma is a rare condition caused by an abnormality of the eye that can affect young children and babies, it is usually managed by specialist clinics.

How do I treat glaucoma?

The damage caused by glaucoma cannot currently be reversed, however it is possible to stop or slow the progression of the condition with laser treatment, medication or surgery.

Many people undergoing treatment for glaucoma do not experience further sight loss.

Can glaucoma make me lose my sight completely?

Most people retain good vision with treatment. Sometimes treatment is unable to stop the deterioration, however it can still significantly slow the progression.

Occasionally, sight loss can progress resulting in the field of vision becoming very narrow, as though you are looking through a tunnel. It can result in the central vision being affected too and may cause blind spots to appear when looking straight ahead. However, most people will retain a degree of useful vision, such as light perception.

How often should I get my eyes tested?

Everyone should have an eye test at least every two years, and anyone with high risk factors (for example, a close relative with glaucoma) should be tested every year.

Contact your optician if you notice any changes to your vision.

Why is it important to stick to my treatment?

The administration of eye drops seems pretty straight forward, but a recent study found that it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of all medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken as recommended by NICE, including eye drops.

Eye drops are the main treatment prescribed for glaucoma. It is important to use them as directed, even if you have not noticed any problems with your vision. Your sight is at risk if you do not stick to the recommended treatment!

What should I do if I feel my prescribed medication is not working for me?

Contact your specialist and discuss any concerns with your ophthalmology consultant or ophthalmic nurse. Do not stop taking your glaucoma medication unless advised to do so as the medication controls the eye pressure and prevents further irreversible damage.

How can I help my relative with glaucoma?

It is completely natural to worry if someone you care about has been diagnosed with glaucoma. It is important to remember that with treatment most people can control their condition.

Usually, the central vision which is responsible for the clearest vision remains intact. Which means that if someone you know has glaucoma they may still be able to read small print but might fall over something large like a table which is in their peripheral vision.

Glaucoma generally affects peripheral vision, but can include loss of contrast sensitivity, light sensitivity, glare and reduced visual acuity. Understanding how glaucoma can affect vision means family and friends can support with issues such as mobility.

Can I live independently with glaucoma?

Depending on the severity of the glaucoma most people are still able to read and cook, however some tasks such as getting to work can be more challenging due to the loss of peripheral vision.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the International Glaucoma Association have more information on glaucoma and offer further support for people affected by glaucoma.

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