There are different types of glaucoma. The all involve loss of vision due to the damage of the optic nerve. Most types of glaucoma are not associated with any symptoms. Glaucoma is commonly referred to as the “silent thief of sight” because loss of vision usually starts in the periphery and is very gradual so that considerable amount of vision can be lost before one is aware of any problem.
Fortunately, glaucoma can be diagnosed with eye tests and early treatment can halt or significantly slow down glaucoma progression.
There are 2 main types of glaucoma:
- Open-angle glaucoma
- Angle-closure glaucoma
What are the risk factors for glaucoma?
The exact cause for glaucoma is still unknown. Over 300,000 Australians have glaucoma and whilst anyone can get glaucoma, there are some specific risk factors for the disease.
- Elevated eye pressure
- Family history of glaucoma
- Some ethnic backgrounds
- Past eye injuries
- Prolonged use of cortisone medication (steroids)
- Systemic health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and poor circulation.
Anyone in these higher risk groups should have their first eye check by the age of 35. For most people, it is recommended to have an eye check for glaucoma by the age of 40.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
The most common type of glaucoma is called open-angle glaucoma. It usually progresses slowly and can often go unnoticed for many months or years, causing a very gradual deterioration in peripheral (side) vision.
For angle-closure glaucoma the closing or narrowing of the drainage angle at the front of the eye can cause a sudden increase in eye pressure. This can cause symptoms including: pain in the eye, severe headache, nausea and vomiting and blurred vision. This type of glaucoma is serious and it can rapidly lead to blindness. It is important that you contact your ophthalmologist immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
What are the treatment options for glaucoma?
Glaucoma is commonly controlled with eye drops taken daily. The drops can be varied to best suit the patient and reduce the pressure to a target pressure which will hopefully prevent any further damage to the optic nerve.
You should never change or stop taking your eye drops without advice from your ophthalmologist. Different drugs can interact, including eye drops, therefore it is important to make a list of all your medications and share this with each doctor you see.
Laser for glaucoma (SLT) can be used instead of or in addition to eye drops. Laser is a particularly good option for people with busy lifestyles or shift workers who struggle with regular drop use or do not wish to use drops, those who are intolerant of preservatives in the eye drops or those with arthritis who struggle with opening of medication bottles.
SLT laser is done in the clinic and patients can resume normal activity immediately after the procedure.
Should drops or laser treatment prove unsuccessful, it may be necessary to perform glaucoma drainage surgery. Your ophthalmologist will discuss this treatment option with you if it is required.
Glaucoma Australia is a wonderful resource that offers extensive, reliable information about glaucoma and support for patients and their families.
Download a summary on glaucoma : Glaucoma (pdf)