While many people have heard of the eye condition known as glaucoma, few know that it can have a very serious effect on eye health. Even fewer people know that it is one of the leading causes of blindness in the UK.
We speak with leading eye expert and Consultant Ophthalmologist Mr Ian Subak-Sharpe, from The Holly Private Hospital, about the condition.
It occurs when fluid from the eye cannot drain
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases which result in damage to the optic nerve. There are several different types of glaucoma, and most involve the drainage system within the eye. At the front of the eye, there is a small space called the ‘anterior chamber’, where a clear fluid constantly flows to nearby tissues. Whenever this liquid cannot drain, it builds pressure within the eye and on the optic nerve, eventually causing irreversible damage, albeit usually painless and gradual.
Glaucoma is a common condition that affects 1-2% of people over 40 years old and 5% of those over 75.
It’s known as the ‘silent enemy of sight’
In early stages of glaucoma, patients are nearly always symptom-free. Studies have shown that up to half of the nerve tissue needs to be damaged before changes are noted in one’s vision. Unfortunately, once damage occurs, it is permanent and can lead to blindness. Thus, early detection is critical to preserving one’s vision. This is why glaucoma is often dubbed ‘the silent enemy or thief of sight’.
Age, family history and ethnicity are the main risk factors
Age is one of the major risk factors for glaucoma. The risk of developing glaucoma increases the older you get, so everyone over the age of 50 should see their optician for yearly eye exams to aid in detecting early signs of glaucoma.
Having a family history of glaucoma has also been shown to increase one’s risk of developing the disease. The highest risk is if it is a first degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child. Glaucoma occurs in all races but is more common in people of West African or Caribbean heritage. Some types of glaucoma are more common in patients who are longsighted (hypermetropic)
If you catch it early, you can treat if effectively
There are numerous treatment options for glaucoma ranging from medication, laser to surgical options. Diagnosing glaucoma early in the disease process allows for the most successful management of glaucoma. Most people with glaucoma use eye drops for many years or for life. Using your drops regularly helps to keep your eye pressure under control and prevents damage to your sight.
In some cases, cataract surgery can lower high eye pressure, reduce the number of medications needed to manage glaucoma, or even eliminate the need for glaucoma medication altogether. Also, it may be possible for your cataract surgeon to perform a minimally invasive type of glaucoma surgery at the same time your cataract procedure is performed to address both conditions at once.
About Ophthalmology Services at The Holly
At The Holly, our experienced consultant ophthalmologists are experts at diagnosing and treating eye conditions, including glaucoma. They can provide treatment for a variety of ophthalmic eye conditions, and will advise on the best course of treatment.