The term Glaucoma actually refers to a number of closely related conditions that medically are referred to as the Glaucomas. It is beyond the scope of this page to cover all the conditions involved, so we will mainly cover the type of glaucoma most commonly seen in Optometric practice which is Primary Open angle Glaucoma. Primary because it isn't associated with any other eye condition and open angle as opposed to closed angle which is a very sudden onset and often painful condition
Glaucoma is a slowly progressive condition from which we are all at risk, although there are some factors that increase the risk namely: Increasing age (it is very rare below 40), if there is a direct family history of glaucoma, certain medical conditions increase the risk e.g. diabetes. Asians and Afro-caribbeans also have an increased risk of developing glaucoma.
The onset of Glaucoma can be very insideous, often taking many years to develop to a point where the patient becomes aware of vision problems. It is painless and slowly restricts the peripheral vision. As it occurs so slowly it is amazing how much peripheral vision can be lost before you become aware that there is a problem. Clinically, we see a change in the appearance of the optic nerve at the back of the eye, which will also be associated with a change in the visual field. The pressure in the eye may also be raised, but that is not always the case.
The only way to detect Glaucoma early is by someone skilled assessing your eyes, e.g. during an Optometric eye examination. During this, the back of your eyes will be assessed, including the optic nerve, as well as the pressures being measured and where appropriate, the visual fields assessed.
Glaucoma is most successfully managed if it is caught early, especially as any damage that has occured is irreversable, therefore regular eye examinations are advised for everyone, especially if you have an increased risk.