Glaucoma is a disease where the pressure within the eye is typically increased (although not always). This can damage parts of the eye, and if left untreated may result in blindness.
Many times the symptoms are not noticeable until damage to the eye has already occurred. Diagnosis consists of having regular eye examinations which include a pressure measurement (usually every 2 years for patients over 40), to enable early detection of possible problems.
Please check the Glaucoma Australia website for a wealth of information regarding glaucoma.
Below is an excerpt of the information they provide:
WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve at the back of the eye is slowly and permanently destroyed.
In the glaucomas, the optic nerve dies at a faster rate than the rest of the body. The single greatest risk factor for this is raised pressure inside the eye though many people may have normal pressure inside the eye and still have glaucoma. Vision loss from glaucoma tends to start from the outside of the visual field and so is not noticed until it is too late. The best way to treat glaucoma is to lower the pressure in the eye.
Approximately 300,000 Australians have glaucoma. Generally there are no warning signs associated with this eye condition. The loss of sight is usually gradual and a considerable amount of peripheral (side) vision may be lost before there is an awareness of any problem. Glaucoma can’t be self-detected.
It is important to remember that while it is more common as we age, glaucoma can occur at any age.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GLAUCOMA?
Chronic (primary open-angle) glaucoma is the most common type. It generally has no warning signs in the early stages of development.
Damage progresses slowly and destroys vision gradually, starting with the side vision. One eye covers for the other and damage can go undetected until a signficant amount of nerve fibres have been destroyed. This damage is irreversible. It is progressive and usually relentless. Treatment cannot restore lost vision but it can arrest or, at least, slow down the damage process.
Early detection means that treatment can commence before a significant loss of vision occurs.
HOW IS GLAUCOMA DETECTED?
Comprehensive eye examinations are the best way to detect glaucoma.
A glaucoma assessment can include the following:
- A check of the optic nerve (the nerve of sight) with an ophthalmoscope;
- An eye pressure check (tonometry);
- Visual field assessment. This checks the sensitivity of the side vision, where glaucoma strikes first;
- An imaging analysis (GDx, HRT, OCT);
- A cornea thickness assessment (pachymetry).
CAN GLAUCOMA BE TREATED?
Although there is no cure for glaucoma it can usually be controlled and further loss of sight either prevented or slowed.
- Eye drops. This is the most common form of treatment. They must be used as prescribed. Drops can be varied to best suit the patient and the type of glaucoma. In some cases oral medication may be prescribed.
- Laser (laser trabeculoplasty). This is performed when the eye care practitioner deems necessary but particularly when eye drops do not stop deterioration in the field of vision. In some cases eye drops will need to be continued after laser. Laser does not require a hospital stay.
- Surgery (trabeculectomy). In most cases this is performed after eye drops and laser have failed to control the eye pressure. A new channel for the fluid to leave the eye is created. It is most often performed in a day surgery.
Treatment can save remaining vision BUT it does not improve eye sight, nor repair vision loss due to nerve damage. Therefore early detection is paramount.