Stopping glaucoma before it starts
Glaucoma Glaucoma can take away up to 40 per cent of your sight before you even notice it’s gone, and regular eye checks are the only way to stop the condition in its tracks.
“Glaucoma is an extremely common condition as it is the second largest cause of blindness in the UK."
"Glaucoma silently robs people of their vision, as it does not always present with symptoms in the initial stages.”
George McNamara, Director of Research, Policy & Innovation for Fight for Sight, explains that glaucoma is known as the ‘silent thief of sight’ for a good reason... For some people with the condition, by the time they realise there is even a problem with their eyes, they have already lost up to 40 per cent of their sight.
“The brain is very clever and when there is a problem with vision, it fills in the missing parts,” explains Karen Osborn, CEO of the International Glaucoma Association (IGA). “It isn’t until there is significant sight loss that a person thinks to visit an optometrist who can help detect what is happening.”
What is being done to combat glaucoma?
Along with other charities, such as the eye research charity Fight for Sight, the IGA is particularly keen to see men understand the importance of regular eye checks for glaucoma: men are 16 per cent more likely than women to have already suffered advanced vision loss because of the condition by the time glaucoma is diagnosed.
"Men are 16 per cent more likely than women to have advanced vision loss because of glaucoma."
This is probably due to men not seeking medical treatment as readily as women and waiting until symptoms are apparent - by which time eye sight can be lost for good. Mrs Osborn says: “If glaucoma is detected early, it can be managed and the remaining useful sight can usually be maintained throughout life.”
What are the causes of glaucoma?
Glaucoma is usually caused by a blockage in the part of the eye that allows optical fluid to drain. This can lead to a build-up of fluid and pressure in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve.
"Your age and ethnicity may determine if you are at high risk."
It's often unclear exactly what causes glaucoma, although factors such as age, ethnicity (particularly African, Caribbean or Asian) and family history are involved. Mr McNamara says: “It’s extremely important for families to discuss their health history, as this will encourage current and future generations to be more vigilant to changes in regards to their eyes.”
Neither is it clear whether people can do anything to prevent glaucoma, but having regular eye tests – at least every two years – will help ensure the condition is picked up as early as possible.
How can I test for glaucoma?
The tests for glaucoma are painless, and include a visual check of the inside of the eye, a sight check and a fluid pressure test. For many patients the eye test will also be free. People should also not be put off by the thought that a diagnosis of glaucoma will cost them their driving licence. Karen says: “Although you do have to inform DVLA if you have glaucoma in both eyes, the vast majority of people with the condition do not then lose their licences.”
"Testing is painless and often free."
Research funded by Fight for Sight is helping to develop smartphone-based mobile screening technology that should make glaucoma testing quicker, easier and more convenient, particularly for hard-to-reach groups such as care homes residents. According to FfS director of research, policy and innovation Mr McNamara, these are the very people who can be most at risk.
What is the treatment for glaucoma?
Currently, treatment for glaucoma is usually lifelong, involving daily eyedrops, and mastering good technique can be tricky (see box). Happily, more convenient treatments such as implants are already in development.
In the meantime, people with glaucoma can readily access healthcare professionals such as the high street pharmacist, who can offer specialist help and advice on glaucoma care. Mrs Osborn says: “Medical professionals have become much more patient-focused and will spend the time with patients to get the treatment right. There’s been a real sea-change in the way the condition is managed and this can only benefit patients.”
Mastering glaucoma eye drops
- Wash your hands
- Find a comfortable position (sitting on a chair, standing in front of a mirror, laying on bed)
- Shake drop bottle gently
- Lean back, pull down lower lid
- Administer one drop, close your eye and put your finger over the inner corner of your eye for up to two minutes
- Repeat with other eye, if necessary
- If you have to administer more than one type of eye drop, wait five minutes between each
- Remove contact lenses before administering drops, and wait 15 minutes before the lens goes back in
- Get into a routine. If you use a drop more than once a day, make sure the times are evenly spaced, and use at the same time each day
- If you tend to forget, try putting your drops in the fridge; a cold drop is easier to remember