What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve at the back of the eye is slowly destroyed leading to vision loss. Over 300,000 Australians have Glaucoma. While it is more common as people age, it can occur at any age. Having an affected family member increases your risk of developing glaucoma by approximately 8 times. As our population becomes older, the proportion of glaucoma patients is increasing. One in 8 Australians over 80 will develop glaucoma.

What are the symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the ‘sneak thief of sight’. Most people have no symptoms unless the glaucoma is very advanced. At present, 50% of people with glaucoma in Australia are undiagnosed for this reason. Glaucoma damage progresses very slowly and destroys vision gradually, starting with the side vision. The damage is irreversible. It is progressive. Treatment cannot recover what has been lost. The aims of treatment are to arrest, or at least, slow down the damage process. That is why it is so important to detect the problem as early as possible, to be able to start treatment with as little damage to the vision as possible.

How is Glaucoma treated?

All glaucoma treatment at present lowers the eye pressure. The correct eye pressure for you is one where your glaucoma does not get worse. This may take time to establish.

The vast majority of people are treated with eye drops that they take indefinitely. This may be once at night or morning and night. Sometimes the first drop tried may not be right for you and an alternative might be used. Some people need to be on 2 or 3 eye drops. Sometimes people also need to take tablets for a short time to lower pressure in the eye. Tablets are usually used in urgent situations to get the pressure under control, often prior to surgery.

Some people elect to have laser treatments or MIGS implants to lower pressure instead of eye drops. While laser treatments are as effective as eye drops they tend to wear off over time. MIGS implants are permanent and are often performed during a cataract surgery. Both technologies do not improve your vision. In some cases a combination of treatments are used to manage glaucoma.

What are some of the forms of Glaucoma?

Chronic (primary open-angle) Glaucoma is the most common form of this disease. In this form of the disease, the eye is structurally normal. The intraocular pressure inside the eye may be raised; however it may also be normal.

Acute (angle-closure) Glaucoma is when the pressure inside the eye rapidly increases due to the iris blocking the drainage of fluid in the eye. An attack of acute closure is often severe. People suffer pain, nausea, blurred vision and redness of the eye. Immediate medical help should be sought. If treatment is delayed there can be permanent visual damage in a very short time. Usually, laser surgery performed promptly can clear the blockage and protect against visual impairment.

Congenital Glaucoma is a rare form of glaucoma caused by an abnormal drainage system. It can exist at birth or develop soon after. Parents may note that the child is sensitive to light, has enlarged and cloudy eyes, and excessive watering. Surgery is usually needed.

Secondary Glaucoma can develop as a result of other disorders of the eye such as injuries, cataracts and eye inflammation. Treatment depends on the exact cause.