Glaucoma

Maureen was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2008 while in her 60s, following an appointment with her optician. Read her full story. She said:

“It was a shock to be diagnosed with glaucoma but I have adjusted and learned to manage my condition. I support Fight for Sight because they focus on the people who count by researching solutions into conditions like glaucoma.”

Find out how the glaucoma research we fund will have a huge impact for people like Maureen who are living with the condition.

More about our research

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions that cause sight loss because of damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain. There are different types of glaucoma and increased eye pressure and age are important risk factors.

Damage to the optic nerve can’t be reversed. Around 60 million people are currently living with glaucoma, making it the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Glaucoma damage can be prevented if detected and treated early. However sight loss is irreversible. This is why funding vital glaucoma research plays a big part in our mission to create a future everyone can see.

What causes glaucoma?

Glaucoma is often (but not always) linked to high eye pressure. Our eyes contain fluid called aqueous humour, which helps them hold their shape. When this fluid is no longer drains away fast enough, eye pressure can rise - but glaucoma can occur in people with normal eye pressure too.

Why some people develop glaucoma and others don’t isn’t fully understood yet, but a number of causes have been recognised. Age is the biggest risk factor with almost 10% of people aged 75 and over having glaucoma. People with a close relative, such as a parent, with the condition may also be at higher risk, and ethnicity (African, Caribbean, Asian origin) is a factor for certain types of glaucoma too.

These are the five main types of glaucoma:

  • Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is the most common form. It’s also the type most associated with older age and is also slightly more common in people of African-Caribbean descent. It happens when the eye’s drainage channels gradually become clogged and tends to develop slowly over many years.

  • Acute angle closure glaucoma, also known as closed angle glaucoma, happens when eye pressure can rise very suddenly potentially leading to acute damage to the optic nerve. It’s a lot less common than primary open angle glaucoma and tends to affect people of East Asian origin more.
  • Secondary glaucoma occurs due to something else going on in the body or eyes, such as side-effect from certain medications, another underlying eye condition like uveitis (inflammation of the eye), or an eye injury. 
  • Normal tension glaucoma is diagnosed despite eye pressure being normal. Why it happens isn’t entirely clear but it’s believed some people’s optic nerves may be more fragile.
  • Congenital glaucoma also known as childhood glaucoma, is when the condition is present from birth due to an abnormality within the eye.

What are the signs and symptoms of glaucoma?

Glaucoma tends to develop slowly and often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms until damage has already occurred. Sometimes people experience acute glaucoma which causes a sudden onset of severe eye pain and blurred vision.

When glaucoma does cause symptoms, these might include: 

  • Blurred and reduced vision starting with peripheral vision (outer edges) and develops very slowly. 
  • Seeing rings and rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights. 
  • Severe eye pain that comes on suddenly. This might be accompanied by redness and tenderness of the eye and surrounding area, plus a headache, nausea and vomiting. 

How is glaucoma diagnosed? 

Glaucoma is usually diagnosed following routine eye tests. Tests for glaucoma often start with an eye pressure test. An optometrist will also examine the front part of the eye, to see whether they can spot any issues with fluid drainage, such as a blockage.

Visual field tests are also carried out to see whether there’s any loss of peripheral vision, and the optic nerve will be assessed too. This sometimes involves eye drops or a scan of the eye so the optometrist can get a closer look of the eye.

If glaucoma is suspected, patients will be referred to a specialist to confirm the diagnosis and assess any damage that’s already occurred. 

How is glaucoma treated? 

Glaucoma is treated by managing the underlying causes to prevent further damage to the optic nerve. The main treatment options currently available are: 

  • Eye drops that reduce the amount of fluid being produced in the eye or by improving fluid drainage. 
  • Laser treatment, a fairly common procedure to help lower eye pressure, completed under local anaesthetic as an outpatient. 
  • Trabeculectomy, a surgical procedure that’s only required in a small number of cases. A specialist surgeon will create a new drainage channel within the eye to improve fluid drainage.

What research is underway? 

Sight loss from glaucoma is irreversible. Fight for Sight is dedicated to funding pioneering research to improve our understanding and prevent glaucoma. The charity also aims to improve early diagnosis and find new treatments.

Fight for Sight is funding 27 glaucoma research projects across the UK. For example, researchers are finding treatments for glaucoma that will lower eye pressure and reduce damage to the parts of the eye that are responsible for vision. The research we fund will have a huge impact on those living with the condition.

Read more about our glaucoma research.

James Morgan, Professor of Ophthalmology at Cardiff University, is studying the extent to which the immune system can accelerate the damage to retinal cells that connect the eye to the brain. Watch James's video below to find out more about his research. 

What can I do?

Have your eyes tested every two years even if you think your vision is fine. An eye test can spot glaucoma and, if caught early, treatment may prevent further deterioration. If you have been advised that you are at risk of glaucoma (e.g. a close relative has the condition) you are entitled to more frequent free eye tests.

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Last updated December 2018
Approved by Professor Colin Willoughby, University of Liverpool

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