Updated 15 June 2023 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Glaucoma?Glaucoma is a common eye condition that affects many people around the world. It is a progressive disease that damages the optic nerve, responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain . Unfortunately, glaucoma often develops without any noticeable symptoms in its early stages, making regular eye exams crucial for early detection. If left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to permanent vision loss, emphasising the importance of timely diagnosis and appropriate management by healthcare professionals.
Glaucoma Symptoms and SignsIn the early stages, glaucoma usually does not cause noticeable symptoms, making it a challenging condition to detect without regular eye exams. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms may gradually become more apparent, which could indicate the presence of glaucoma. These symptoms may include :
- Tunnel vision describes a gradual loss of peripheral vision where the person may feel that they are looking through a tunnel and have difficulty seeing objects towards the sides.Blurred or hazy vision
- The appearance of halos around bright lights
- Sensitivity to glare
- Difficulty adjusting to changes in the brightness of an environment
- Eye pain
- Redness in the eyes
Glaucoma CausesGlaucoma is primarily caused by increased pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure. Our eyes have a fluid called 'aqueous humour' that provides nutrients and maintains shape. This fluid flows in and out in a healthy look, keeping the pressure balanced. In glaucoma, poor drainage can cause the fluid to build up and increase the pressure inside the eye. This increased pressure can damage the optic nerve, which sends signals from the eye to the brain. Over time, this damage can lead to vision loss.
Risk FactorsThere are confident lifestyle choices, environmental factors and genetics that can increase the risk of developing glaucoma, including :
- Those with diabetes
- Individuals who have family members with this condition
- High blood pressure
- Those with heart disease
- Certain ethnicities, including those of African, Hispanic and Chinese descent
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Prolonged use of corticosteroids
Glaucoma Tests and DiagnosisVisiting a doctor for glaucoma testing is important because early detection and treatment are crucial. GPs can help assess your overall health and determine if you have any risk factors for glaucoma, such as a family history of the disease or certain medical conditions. They can perform basic tests to identify potential risk factors for glaucoma. Suppose the GP suspects glaucoma or finds any concerning signs. In that case, they can refer you to an eye specialist called an ophthalmologist for further evaluation.
TonometryTonometry is a standard test used to diagnose glaucoma . It helps measure the pressure inside the eye, an essential factor in detecting the disease. The eye care professional may use a special device or a puff of air during the test. By measuring the eye's pressure, tonometry helps determine if it is within a normal range or too high, which could indicate glaucoma. This test is usually painless and straightforward, providing valuable information to the eye care professional in diagnosing and managing glaucoma effectively.
Visual Field TestingVisual field testing is a valuable method for diagnosing glaucoma . It assesses the quality of our peripheral (side) vision, which can be affected by the disease. During the test, you will focus on a target in the centre of a machine while signalling when you see lights or objects appearing in your side vision. By doing this, the health professional can create a map of your visual field, identifying any areas of reduced or missing images. This helps detect early signs of glaucoma-related vision loss, even before noticeable symptoms occur.
Slip Lamp TestingSlit lamp testing is a helpful tool used to diagnose glaucoma. It involves using a special microscope called a slit lamp to closely examine the eye's structures . During the test, you will sit in front of the slit lamp while the eye care professional shines a thin light into your eye. By examining these structures, the eye care professional can identify any abnormalities or signs of glaucoma. Slit lamp testing is painless and allows for a detailed assessment of your eye health, which can diagnose and manage glaucoma effectively.
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)Optical Coherence Tomography  is a modern, advanced method for diagnosing glaucoma. It involves using a particular machine that captures detailed images of the back of your eye, including the optic nerve and its surrounding structures. The OCT machine uses light waves to create a cross-sectional image of your eye, allowing the eye care professional to measure the thickness of the optic nerve fibres. This information helps determine if there is any damage or thinning of the nerve, which can be a sign of glaucoma.
Glaucoma TreatmentThere are various medical treatments available for glaucoma. These treatments aim to slow down or prevent further damage to the optic nerve to preserve vision. GPs may also refer you to ophthalmologists who are eye specialists. To learn more, please visit Glaucoma Australia.
Eye DropsThe most common treatment is the use of eye drops, which are medicated liquids that are applied directly into the eyes. These eye drops help lower the pressure inside the eye and are typically used daily.
Oral MedicationOral medications are sometimes used as a treatment option for glaucoma. These medications are taken by mouth in the form of pills or tablets. Oral medications reduce intraocular pressure, which is the main factor in glaucoma. They can either decrease fluid production in the eye or improve its drainage. Regular follow-up visits will be necessary to monitor the effectiveness of the oral medications and make any adjustments if needed.
Laser TreatmentLaser treatment is another approach used to manage glaucoma. It involves using a particular type of laser to improve fluid drainage from the eye, which helps reduce the pressure inside the eye. During the procedure, the eye care professional will apply numbing eye drops and then use the laser to make tiny, painless openings in the eye's drainage system. Laser treatment is usually performed in an outpatient setting and doesn't require incisions or stitches. It is a quick procedure, and while you may feel some pressure or discomfort, it is generally well-tolerated. The effectiveness of laser treatment can vary from person to person, and additional treatments or medications may still be needed.
SurgerySurgery may also be recommended as a treatment option for glaucoma. The surgery aims to create a new drainage channel or implant a small device that helps control the eye's pressure. There are different types of glaucoma surgeries, but they all aim to improve fluid flow out of the eye, reducing the pressure inside.
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