Glaucoma is an eye disease that can lead to blindness if it’s not diagnosed and treated in time. It consists of the gradual loss of nerve fibres that make up the optic nerve. As a result of the loss of these fibres, defects in the patient’s visual field occur but these may at first go unnoticed. However, thanks to the development of new techniques these defects can now be detected early on.
There are different forms of glaucoma which can be categorised by their origin, width of the iridocorneal angle (open or closed), or moment at which they appear (from birth, childhood or adulthood).
What are the main risks of glaucoma?
In the vast majority of cases, the glaucoma is associated with ocular hypertension or increased pressure within the eye. Ocular hypertension is currently the main risk factor for the development and progression of glaucoma but not all patients with hypertension have glaucoma. Some patients have high pressure within the eye but, nevertheless, have a normal optic nerve. These patients suffer only from hypertension and not from glaucoma.
Other risk factors are age (over 40), family history of glaucoma, nearsightedness, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (high blood pressure) and race (higher prevalence in black patients).
Why is an early diagnosis of glaucoma so important?
The main problem with the disease lies in the fact that the condition doesn’t present any symptoms until it’s at an advanced stage meaning that the patient is not aware of the danger until a large part of their vision has been lost and cannot be recovered. Therefore, an early diagnosis is essential to discover and treat glaucoma as soon as possible and avoid any damage to vision. An early diagnosis can only be carried out via a full ophthalmological examination. Given that cases of glaucoma increase from the age of 40, those over this age should visit an ophthalmologist once a year to check for this disease.
How is it detected?
A full ophthalmological examination will determine if glaucoma is present or not. The ophthalmologist can measure the pressure within the eye and see directly if there has been any damage to the optic nerve or if there are any other signs of glaucoma. Equipment also exists that measures any reduction in the visual field caused by a damaged optic nerve.
Which are the most common treatments for glaucoma?
As we have already mentioned, early detection of glaucoma is the best treatment as this will prevent irreversible damage.
Since any damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed, treatment aims to stop the condition advancing and prevent any further damage to the optic nerve. Nowadays with modern treatments, we are able to adequately control glaucoma.
Treatment comes in many forms such as eye drops, laser treatment and surgery.
Generally, glaucoma is controlled by one of two eye drops that reduce the pressure within the eye. Laser treatment can be used in conjunction with the eye drops or instead of them. However, if neither of these are sufficient then surgery is the next step.
It’s essential that patients acknowledge the severity of their condition and commit fully to treatment to prevent the glaucoma from progressing.
Some advice for glaucoma patients
Have regular check-ups with your ophthalmologist particularly from the age of 40. Remember that ocular hypertension does not produce any symptoms but could still be damaging the optic nerve.
Glaucoma has a genetic component. It’s recommended that family members of glaucoma patients (parents, children, grandchildren etc.) are regularly checked to detect the condition as early as possible.
Regular ophthalmological examinations are effective. They allow ocular hypertension to be controlled and detect any loss of peripheral vision before the patient can.
The sooner glaucoma is diagnosed, the better. Remember that any damage caused by glaucoma is irreversible.
Follow the course of treatment. Glaucoma is a chronic disease that requires continual treatment.