World Glaucoma WeekMarch 11–17
Glaucoma is an eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, becomes damaged. It can lead to loss of vision if not detected and treated early on.
It usually occurs when the fluid in the eye cannot drain properly, which increases the pressure inside the eye and puts pressure on the optic nerve.
Glaucoma is a common condition, but many people won't realise they have it because it doesn't always cause symptoms in the early stages.
It can affect people of all ages, including babies and young children, but is most common in adults in their 70s and 80s.
Symptoms of glaucoma
Glaucoma doesn't usually have any symptoms to begin with and is often only picked up during a routine eye test. Many people don't realise they have it because it develops slowly over many years and tends to cause a loss of peripheral vision (the edge of your vision) at first. Both eyes are usually affected, although it may be worse in one eye. Without treatment, it can eventually lead to blindness.
Very occasionally, glaucoma can develop suddenly and cause:
- intense eye pain
- a red eye
- a headache
- tenderness around the eyes
- seeing rings around lights
- blurred vision
When to get medical advice
Visit an opticians or your GP if you have any concerns about your vision.
Causes of glaucoma
Glaucoma is usually caused by a blockage in the part of the eye that allows fluid to drain from it. This can lead to a build-up of fluid and pressure in the eye and can damage the optic nerve.
It's often unclear exactly what causes it, although there are some things that can increase your risk, including:
- your age – glaucoma becomes more likely as you get older and the most common type affects around 1 in 10 people over 75
- your ethnicity – people of African, Caribbean or Asian origin are at a higher risk of glaucoma
- your family history – you're more likely to develop glaucoma if you have a parent or sibling with the condition
It's not clear whether you can do anything to prevent glaucoma, but having regular eye tests will help ensure it’s picked up as early as possible.
Look after your eyes
Why are regular eye tests (sight tests) so important?
It's easy to neglect your eyes because they rarely hurt when there's a problem. Having an eye test won't just tell you if you need new glasses or a change of prescription – it's also an important eye health check. It can spot many general health problems and early signs of eye conditions before you're aware of any symptoms, many of which can be treated if found early enough.
How often should I have an eye test?
Optometrists recommend that most people have an eye test about every two years. People over 40 and people from black or minority ethnic groups may need sight tests more often
What should I do if I notice a change in my sight?
Visit your optician or GP if you're concerned about any aspect of your vision at any time.
Are some people more at risk from eye disease than others?
Anyone can develop sight problems, but some people have a higher risk of eye disease. It's especially important to have regular eye tests if you are:
- above 60 years old
- from certain ethnic groups – for example, people from African-Caribbean communities are at greater risk of developing glaucoma and diabetes, and people from south Asian communities are at a greater risk of developing diabetes; diabetic retinopathy, where the retina becomes damaged, is a common complication of diabetes
- someone with a learning disability
- from a family with a history of eye disease
What else can I do to look after my eyes?
Give up smoking
Smokers are much more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration and cataracts compared with non-smokers.
While it might seem odd that exercise can help the eyes, it can be important. Research shows that exercise may reduce the risk of sight loss, which can occur as a result of high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowing or hardening of the arteries.
A healthy, balanced diet that includes a wide variety of fruit and vegetables will benefit your overall health, and may help keep the retina healthy.
Drink within the recommended limits
Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of early age-related macular degeneration.
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level:
- men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
- spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week
- if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week
Protect your eyes from the sun
Never look at the sun directly, even when something exciting is happening, such as an eclipse. Doing so can cause irreversible damage to your eyesight and even lead to blindness. Several studies also suggest sunlight exposure is a risk factor for cataracts.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat or sunglasses can help protect your eyes from UV rays. The College of Optometrists recommends buying good-quality dark sunglasses – these needn't be expensive.
Look for glasses carrying the CE mark or the British Standard BS EN ISO 12312: 2013, which ensures they offer a safe level of ultraviolet protection.