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Understanding Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition that can affect a patients sight, usually because of a build up of pressure within the eye. A fluid called aqueous humour is constantly produced by the eye, with any excess fluid usually draining away through tubes in the eye, however when the fluid cannot drain properly, intraocular pressure can develop which can lead to glaucoma. This can damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, and the nerve fibres from the retina, the light-sensitive nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye. Both eyes are usually affected by the condition, often to varying degrees with one eye developing glaucoma quicker than the other.

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There are four main types of glaucoma that can appear:

  • Chronic Open-Angle Glaucoma- The most common type of glaucoma which often develops slowly.
  • Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma- This type is rare and can occur both slowly (chronic) or rapidly (acute) which causes a sudden and painful build-up of pressure in the eye.
  • Secondary Glaucoma- This type often occurs because of an eye injury or another eye condition (such as Uveitis which is the inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, most cases of uveitis are thought to be related to a problem with a patients immune system).
  • Developmental (Congenital) Glaucoma- A rare but sometimes serious type, which can occur in very young children often caused by an abnormality of the eye.

Different types of glaucoma can present different symptoms and warning signs, sometimes there may be no symptoms at all- particularly in Chronic Open-Angle Glaucoma, which is the most common type. However some symptoms can include:

  •  Tunnel Vision (Narrowing of vision)- usually the first sign to appear.
  • Seeing halos around lights- patients may also find that they are unusually sensitive to light.
  • Vision loss
  • Redness in the eye
  • Hazy eyes- a cloudy looking cornea is often one of the earliest signs to appear, particularly in childhood conditions.
  • Nausea/Vomiting- often accompanied with severe eye pain.
  • Pain in the eye and head- sometimes a symptom of Angle-Closure Glaucoma.

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Glaucoma has population categories that are at an increased risk of developing the condition, these include- those aged over 40 (particularly 60+), those with a family history of the condition, those who have diabetes, hypertension or extremely low blood pressure, those who have suffered from an eye injury, those that take certain steroid medications (particularly prednisone), those with poor vision (particular extreme nearsightedness or a very thin cornea) and those that are of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Inuit, Irish, Russian or Scandinavian descent. The key to glaucoma prevention is knowing whether you or those close to you are of an increased risk and taking steps to prevent the condition, such as getting a complete eye exam every one to two years. Not everyone in these categories will suffer from glaucoma and not everyone with high eye pressure will develop the condition, many people with normal eye pressure can unfortunately also develop the condition.

The treatment for glaucoma varies depending on the type you are diagnosed with, but the main aim of treatment is to relieve and reduce the intraocular pressure. The most common form of treatment is often prescription eye drops that should be used regularly. Some other treatments include, systemic medications, laser treatment or even surgery in some cases. Unfortunately treatment will continue for the rest of a patients life, as there is currently no cure for the condition and the condition can often progress or change slightly so adjustments may need to be made.

If left untreated Glaucoma can cause blindness and as there is not yet a cure for Glaucoma the vision lost cannot be regained. However with medication, or in some cases, surgery, further vision loss can be halted. As Open-Angle Glaucoma is a chronic condition it means that it has to be monitored for life to ensure that it is being treated the best it can be. Unfortunately around 10% of patients with glaucoma, receiving proper treatment will still experience vision loss making glaucoma the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

For more information about glaucoma, please visit the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s website.

 

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