Eyes Under Pressure: Do you know the facts about Glaucoma?
The 11th-18th March was World Glaucoma Week. After chatting to my patients I found that most of them aren't 100% sure exactly what Glaucoma is and how it affects your vision. So today I am going to try and bust a few myths about Glaucoma and answer some questions that I know you are all dying to ask!
Firstly you should know that Glaucoma is one of the BIG FOUR eye conditions that has a profound effect on eye health and vision in the UK. It is also probably one of the eye conditions that I find my patients know least about!
I thought that I would break Glaucoma down into some bite sized pieces that are easier to swallow than the technical jargon that you find on most websites...
So... what actually is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma can be simply described as a group of conditions that causes irreparable damage to the nerve at the back of your eye, leading to loss of peripheral vision.
Think of your vision as being like a big TV screen, and someone slowly turning more and more of the little pixels off. This eventually leads to a big black area where the picture is missing. In most cases it is raised pressure inside the eye which causes this damage, however some people can have Glaucoma with a relatively ‘normal’ pressure - this is called normal tension glaucoma. It’s really hard to spot early on, so that’s why its is so important to have regular check-ups!
Are there different types of Glaucoma?
There are two main types of Glaucoma which each have very different symptoms:
Open-angle Glaucoma - This is where the pressure in the eye increases very slowly over a number of years. It often has no symptoms until a patient is entering the late stages of the condition. This is why it is SO IMPORTANT that you pop in and see us at Bennett & Batty for your routine check-up!
Closed-angle Glaucoma - This is where the pressure in the eye increases rapidly. The symptoms of angle closure glaucoma are pain, redness and blurred vision / haloes around lights. If you experience these symptoms then either contact your optician or go straight to your local hospital eye service (St Pauls walk in for most of you in Liverpool) as this type of Glaucoma requires urgent attention.
You can also get other types of Glaucoma which are secondary to different medications or other health / eye conditions. This is why we ask so many questions at the start of the sight test (I know it can feel like an interview at times, but really we are just looking after you and your eyes!).
Does Glaucoma run in families?
As far as research can tell us, you are definitely at a higher risk of developing Glaucoma if a close relative (Mum / Dad / Brother / Sister / Child) has the condition. Everyone who is aged over 40 with a family history of Glaucoma can get a yearly sight test paid for by the NHS. This is because early detection of the condition results in a better prognosis.
How can my optician check for Glaucoma?
There are several ways in which your optician can check your eyes for glaucoma. At Bennett & Batty we carry out a wide range of checks on patients both with and without a family history of Glaucoma. Examples are shown below:
Intra-ocular Pressure measurements - this is the ‘puff of air’ test where the machine measures the pressure inside your eye.
Visual Field testing - this is the test where you look at the small white flashing lights and it measures the extent of your peripheral vision.
Fundus examination - This is where the optician looks into your eye with a light to check that the Optic Nerve at the back of the eye looks healthy.
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) - this is a test not usually done in normal high street practice, however at Bennett & Batty we are privileged to be able to offer test this to all of our patients. An OCT takes a scan of the back of the eye (as show below) allowing the Optician to closely monitor change inside the retina.
Imagine you are looking down on the top of a house - you can see the roof but not what is inside the little rooms inside - this is the normal view of the retina that your Optician gets when they look inside your eye. The OCT scan enables us to see what is going on under the surface of the retina - just like looking in through the windows of the house to see inside the rooms! It enables detection of Glaucoma around 50% earlier, leading hopefully to a better prognosis.
How is Glaucoma treated?
In the early stages, most open-angle types are treated with eye drops that help to reduce the pressure in the eye. The reduced pressure means that less damage is done to the nerve at the back of the eye, preserving vision. If the drops aren't effective then some people need a small operation to reduce the pressure in the eye.
This type of Glaucoma requires urgent action to reduce the pressure in the eye. This is usually achieved by using a laser to make small holes in the iris (the coloured part of your eye). If someone is at risk of this type of glaucoma this procedure can sometimes be carried out as a preventative method too!
How does the treatment work?
In order to explain how the treatment works I should first explain how the pressure in the eye is controlled.
Imagine that your eye is a sink, with water flowing into the sink from the tap and water flowing out of the sink through the plug hole. This is exactly how the pressure is maintained in your eye. The fluid in your eye (called the aqueous humour) is constantly being produced and the drained. If the fluid is produced at the same rate at which it drains, then the pressure stays stable. If too much fluid is produced or not enough is drained, then the pressure in the eye goes up - this is Glaucoma!
The treatments work by either slowing down the production of this fluid or increasing the rate at which it drains. This reduces the pressure inside the eye!
Thats all folks!
So there it is... a whirlwind tour of Glaucoma, the first one of our BIG FOUR eye conditions! Lets get talking about World Glaucoma Week and educate people on the facts about Glaucoma.
If my blog inspires just one person with undiagnosed Glaucoma to go and get an eye check then I will be thrilled. But I think we can do much better than that!
See you soon for a chat about vision and driving!
For more information about Glaucoma and World Glaucoma Week please visit the official website: https://www.wgweek.net/about-world-glaucoma-week/