What Is Glaucoma?
The term glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions. They all share the same common traits, in that they all cause optic nerve damage and result in problems with vision.
How do people with glaucoma see?
Glaucoma causes impairment to peripheral vision. Previous simulations have depicted glaucoma having similar effects as tunnel vision, however our video below gives a more accurate portrayal of what it may be like to suffer from glaucoma.
What causes glaucoma?
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which is the bundle of nerves in the eye responsible for recording what you see. These nerves send details of the images to the brain for interpretation, which is what gives us sight. When these nerves become damaged, the person’s vision is impaired either slightly or severely, and they will be diagnosed with glaucoma.
The condition is most commonly caused by raised pressure in the eye. The eyeball requires a certain amount of pressure in order to maintain its shape and work properly, but if this pressure it can damage the optic nerve, causing glaucoma.
Why does eye pressure change?
Behind the coloured part of the eye, known as the iris, there is a layer of cells that produce a watery fluid to keep the eye moist. This fluid is called aqueous, which passes from the iris through the pupil and then away through tiny drainage channels known as the trabecular meshwork. All this happens in the space between your eye surface (the cornea) and the iris, so is nothing to do with your tears.
If part of the trabecular meshwork becomes blocked or constricted, or if the cells produce excessive amounts of aqueous fluid, this increased pressure can be enough to cause problems to the delicate optic nerves at the back of your eye.
The types and symptoms of glaucoma
There are four main types of glaucoma, and the type you are suffering with will need to be diagnosed by a specialist:
- 1. Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) – This is the most common type of glaucoma in the UK today. It is caused by problems with the drainage of the aqueous fluid from the eye, and results in problems with peripheral vision. In the early stages, the sufferer may notice a loss of vision in an arc shape just above or below the centre of vision, and if left untreated can result in tunnel vision.
- 2. Acute angle closure glaucoma – This type of glaucoma is less common and is much more sudden than POAG. It is caused by a rapid and complete blockage of the trabecular meshwork, and is often very painful. Acute glaucoma is an emergency and needs to be treated quickly if the sight is to be saved.
- 3. Secondary glaucoma – Sometimes an increase in your eye pressure can be brought on by other injuries, eye conditions or even by certain medication. Treatment is the same as for POAG.
- 4. Developmental glaucoma Also called congenital glaucoma, this is a very rare condition which affects young babies. It is managed by specialist clinics.
How can laser eye surgery help?
Laser eye surgery has been shown to be effective in treating glaucoma in a range of patients, and is one of the ways in which you can reduce the pressure in your eye to and prevent the condition from becoming worse. There are two main types of treatment which can help:
- Laser iridotomy
- Laser trabeculoplasty
Laser iridotomy, involves creating a new drainage channel for the aqueous fluid at the front of your eye. The channel is usually made through the top of the iris. This treatment is commonly used as an emergency treatment for acute angle closure glaucoma.
Laser trabeculoplasty is frequently used to treat POAG and has been shown to be effective in improving the drainage of aqueous fluid. This treatment involves using a laser to stimulate the trabecular meshwork to make it work more efficiently.
After glaucoma surgery
Both types of surgery only require a single treatment and recovery times are very short. Laser eye surgery is proving to be a highly effective method of treating glaucoma, especially when followed by glaucoma eye drop aftercare to stabilise eye pressure.
Are you at risk of glaucoma?
There are certain factors that can make you more likely to develop glaucoma at some point in your life. These include:
- Age: After the age of 40, your risk of glaucoma increases. By 65, around 5 per cent of the population have POAG.
- Race: People of African origin are more at risk, and can develop symptoms of glaucoma at an earlier age.
- short-sightedness: Short-sighted people are more at risk of developing glaucoma.
- Family: Glaucoma can be hereditary, so if you have a close relative with the condition you should be more aware of your own health.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing the condition.
Many people go through their entire lives without developing glaucoma, even if they are considered to be in a high risk group. If you suspect you may be developing glaucoma, it is important to see your GP as early as possible so you can receive prompt treatment.
The cost of laser glaucoma treatment
The cost of laser treatment for glaucoma is usually within the range of £500-£1,000, with the cost of trabeculoplasty surgery being around £2,000-£2,500. Most medical insurance companies would cover these costs and treatment can be sought on the NHS.