Health And Wellbeing For The Over 50s

Glaucoma, the Sight Stealing Disease

Glaucoma tonometer

Glaucoma, the world’s leading cause of blindness, is a disease of the eye caused by pressure inside the eye which damages cells in the optic nerve. If left untreated, the patient may lose vision and even become blind. Glaucoma is often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight” due to the fact that it rarely presents symptoms and can take away as much as 40% of a person’s vision without them noticing. Once this vision has gone, it cannot be restored.

Early diagnosis however can open the door to a number of treatment options that halt glaucoma related vision loss.

The disease causes a build up of fluid in the anterior chamber at the front of the eye. This causes pressure and damages the optic nerve leading to loss of vision.

There are two main types of glaucoma and the symptoms and signs vary as follows:

Primary open-angle glaucoma

  • Peripheral vision is gradually lost in both eyes
  • The patient experiences tunnel vision

Closed angle glaucoma

  • Severe eye pain often leading to nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Halo like glow around light objects
  • Redness in the eyes
  • Difficulty seeing when lighting is poor


Open angle glaucoma is the most common and in its early stages presents no symptoms hence why people are unaware that they are affected. The symptoms with closed angle glaucoma are more immediately apparent.

Glaucoma risk factors

  • People over the age of 60
  • People from an ethnic background especially Asian & African women
  • People with diabetes or hypothyroidism
  • People who have undergone eye surgery
  • People with nearsightedness (myopia)
  • People who have suffered eye injuries such as retinal detachment, eye inflammations & tumours
  • People on long term corticosteroids & eye drops containing corticosteroids


However it would appear that many people in these high risk groups are not heeding the call to attend regular eye check ups which would lead to glaucoma being diagnosed at an early stage and hopefully start a treatment programme to prevent vision loss and blindness.

Diagnosing glaucoma

  • Eye pressure test using a tonometer, anaesthetic, dye & a blue light held against the eye
  • Gonioscopy to explore the area where the fluid drains out of the eye
  • Visual field test to determine which area of patient’s vision is missing
  • Assessment of optic nerve to reveal any small changes which may point to the onset of  glaucoma

Treatments for glaucoma

The most common treatments for early glaucoma are medications in the form of eye drops or pills which reduce eye pressure by encouraging fluid drainage. Unfortunately as people often experience no symptoms they stop taking their medications leading to a reduced success rate.

Laser trabeculoplasty can also be used in which a high intensity light beam makes holes in the drainage canals to allow the fluid to drain more effectively.

Patients can also under surgery where a small area of tissue is removed from the eye wall to allow the fluid to drain through the hole made.

Health professionals across the globe are in agreement that educating the public about glaucoma is key to encouraging more people to attend regular  eye tests every 12 to 18 months.

To read details of a new study which shows that a diet rich in leafy green vegetables might reduce the risk of this debilitating disease, click on the link above.

For more general information and guidance click on the links below:

RNIB – Glaucoma

International Glaucoma Association

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