Let’s talk about Glaucoma with Dr Alice Fitzgibbon

Let’s talk about Glaucoma with Dr Alice Fitzgibbon

This month, Professional Builder looks at a common eye complaint.

This month, I thought we would cover something a little different and move up to the eyes. In the UK, there are nearly two million people living with sight loss. Looking after your eye health is really important and the NHS recommends that adults have an eye check up every two years. The optometrist or optician is not just there for when you feel there is a problem with your eyes; the check-ups they do are important as they can pick up early signs of problems before you have any symptoms. Many common diseases can have signs seen in the eye including high blood pressure and diabetes. An important, common and treatable condition checked for in a routine eye test is glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a condition that affects the optic nerve (the nerve that connects your eye to your brain and is essential for vision). The optic nerve can be damaged if the pressure within the eye is too high. Normally eye pressure is well controlled by circulating fluid produced by the eye; it is made and drains away in equal measures so pressure stays the same. If there is a blockage and the fluid cannot drain away, this causes a rise in the eye pressure. This can either happen gradually over time which is most common, but it can also happen suddenly

If there is a gradual build-up of pressure in the eye, you might not have any symptoms. The only way to know it is happening is if you have your eye pressure and vision checked by the optometrist. Glaucoma causes visual loss that affects the outer edges of vision first (peripheral vision). If it is left untreated, it will progress to you being able to see less and less, eventually becoming tunnel vision and then sight loss altogether. Sometimes, people will have earlier signs that they have glaucoma. These can include blurred vision or seeing “halos” around bright lights.

If there is a sudden increase in eye pressure then this is an eye emergency as the optic nerve may be damaged quickly. This may happen in one eye only. Signs of acute glaucoma are:

  • Sudden onset intense eye pain
  • Red eye
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Tenderness around the eyes.

If you ever develop any of these symptoms you should see the optometrist as a same day emergency, explaining what is wrong.

Some people are more at risk of developing glaucoma. Advancing age, having glaucoma running in your family and being of African, Caribbean or Asian origin all increase the risk of developing this condition. Having other conditions, such as being short or long sighted, and having diabetes also raises the risk.

So, the good news about glaucoma is that it can be treated. The bad news is that if there is damage caused by glaucoma, it is permanent and there is no way to regain the sight that has already been lost. This is why picking it up early is really important. Treatment can stop the condition from getting worse and is sight saving for many people. Depending on the type of glaucoma you have, treatment can be different. Mainly, it is controlled with eye drops which reduce the eye pressure. In other cases, laser treatment or surgery is needed to help the eye drain fluid more effectively. If you have glaucoma and treatment is started, you will have regular follow up to make sure the treatment is working and your eye pressures are controlled. So please, if you are due an eye check up, don’t delay it! Your optometrist can check easily and painlessly that your eyes are in good health.

For further information on Glaucoma visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/glaucoma/

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