Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye.
This may be because the pressure is higher than normal, or because the nerve is more susceptible to damage from pressure.
Because you often cannot feel the pressure, and the damage happens slowly, you may not realise you have a problem until a lot of damage has been done.
Any damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed or repaired so it is particularly important to find out early if you have a problem.
The best way to make sure of this is to have a regular eye examination.
Who gets glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma. However the risk goes up for anyone
How is glaucoma detected?
Because in the early stages of glaucoma there are no symptoms, the best way to catch it early is to have regular eye examinations.
When looking for signs of glaucoma during an eye examination there are three main factors that we will investigate. The first is the pressure inside the eye, which may be measured with small puffs of air blown at your eye or by numbing your eye with drops and gently pressing an instrument called a tonometer against the surface.
The pressure inside your eye is an important factor and as a general rule as pressure increases, so does the risk of developing glaucoma. However, some people naturally have high pressure and this may never go on to cause any damage to the eyes. Therefore high pressure alone is not necessarily a cause for concern.
The second factor we look at is your peripheral vision – how far you can see around you when you are looking straight ahead. When glaucoma damages our optic nerve this tends to affect our peripheral vision first so it is important to assess the sensitivity of your peripheral vision for any blind spots.
The third and most important factor in assessing for glaucoma is an examination of the optic nerve head, the part of the optic nerve that is visible to us when we look inside your eye. This is usually done by shining a bright light into the eye and looking in through a microscope. Glaucoma causes characteristic changes in the appearance of the optic nerve head and these changes are often the earliest detectable signs of the disease. Advances in technology are now enabling us to use better techniques such as photography and OCT to detect and monitor changes in the optic nerve head more accurately than ever before.
What will happen if I have Glaucoma?
There is no cure for Glaucoma but it can be treated effectively. This is normally with eyedrops that are used every day but may in some instances involve surgery. Any existing damage to your sight caused by the glaucoma will be permanent but with effective treatment it should not get much worse.
I have Glaucoma. Can I drive?
You should inform the DVLA if you have been diagnosed with glaucoma. You may have to complete some extra peripheral vision tests but most people are still allowed to carry on driving. However, this will depend on how advanced your glaucoma is. You can find more information at http://www.direct.gov.uk/driverhealth
For more help and support visit http://www.glaucoma-association.com