What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma refers to a group of conditions that cause vision loss due to damage to the optic nerve, which carries information from the eye to the brain. Such damage is usually the result of high pressure in the eye.

There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle, which is far more common and affects vision over time, and angle-closure, which occurs when the iris blocks fluid from draining out of the eye. Angle closure glaucoma can cause blindness in a matter of days and is considered an ophthalmic emergency.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. The disease can occur at any age; however, it is far more common in older adults. Two in 100 Australians will develop glaucoma at some point in their lifetime.

Usually, the loss of vision from glaucoma occurs gradually, and many patients may not be aware of a problem until a considerable amount of vision has already been lost. In fact, 50% of people with glaucoma are unaware that they are affected. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness, however if detected early then vision loss can be prevented in a vast majority of cases.

Glaucoma symptoms

As there are different types of glaucoma, the signs and symptoms of the disease can vary. Open-angle glaucoma is by far the most common type, accounting for 90 percent of cases in Australia. This type of glaucoma has no obvious symptoms, aside from gradual vision loss.

Angle-closure glaucoma, on the other hand, is regarded as a medical emergency and has a number of noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Eye redness
  • Sudden blurred vision and other vision disturbances
  • Seeing a halo around lights

Causes of glaucoma

There are many different factors that can contribute to causing glaucoma, however the end result is an increased pressure within the eye.  Over a prolonged period of time, this increased pressure causes damage to the optic nerve.  This initially results in impaired peripheral vision, however glaucoma can progress to affect the central vision.

As with many eye diseases, your risk for glaucoma increases with age. Other risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Certain medications, such as steroids
  • Previous eye injury or surgery
  • Being extremely short-sighted or far-sighted

Glaucoma prevention

Unfortunately, glaucoma cannot be cured. It can, however, be successfully treated to prevent vision loss.  Firstly, diagnosis in the early stages of the condition is important – glaucoma can be detected by having regular eye examinations with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.  As glaucoma often runs in families, learn about your family’s eye health history to understand whether you are at increased risk and need more frequent screening.

Diagnosis of glaucoma

Diagnosing glaucoma requires a thorough eye examination.  The tests performed will include measuring your eye pressure, a visual field test to check your peripheral vision, as well as a scan of your optic nerve to assess its overall health.  You will also be given dilating drops to widen your pupil so that the internal structures of your eye, in particular the optic nerve, can be examined and assessed.

Glaucoma treatment

Treatments for glaucoma aim to lower the eye pressure in order to prevent or slow further vision loss.  This can be achieved through the use of prescription eye drops in most cases, or through the use of laser treatment.  In certain circumstances, lowering the eye pressure must be achieved through the use of surgical methods.  

Get in touch to see Dr Juanita Pappalardo

Dr Pappalardo is a Specialist Ophthalmologist with broad experience in treating a range of common eye diseases, including glaucoma. If you believe that you have glaucoma, get in touch to plan your visit with Dr Pappalardo.

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