Warning Signs for Glaucoma and The Importance of Early Detection
Glaucoma occurs when pressure in the eye damages the nerve that connects the eye to the brain, the optic nerve. Without this nerve we cannot see. In glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged in a slow, piecemeal way. Once damage occurs it cannot be reversed; but treatment (generally involving lowering eye pressure) can prevent or halt the damage from worsening. That is why it is always best to diagnose glaucoma as early as possible.
People are often unaware of the early stages of glaucoma. This is because the process is painless, and the vision loss is gradual; it tends to affect our peripheral vision first which we are generally unaware of. It is only when the disease is relatively advanced and begins to involve our central vision that we may notice a problem. Unfortunately, this is quite late in the disease process and we want to be detecting glaucoma much earlier than this.
Ideally, all people over 50 should be checked every 2 years by their Optometrist or Optician for common eye conditions like glaucoma. If they are at increased risk for glaucoma (such as having a family history of glaucoma) then this process should begin earlier e.g., age 40.
If their Optometrist detects suspicious signs of glaucoma (such as raised eye pressure, narrow drainage angles or changes to the optic nerve) then the patient will be referred to an Ophthalmologist for further assessment. Clinical diagnosis is supported by a test of peripheral vision (visual field test) and a scan of the optic nerve.
Glaucoma is a lifelong condition that requires lifelong monitoring and treatment. It is generally treated by lowering the eye pressure with gentle, safe laser; regular eye drops; or in some cases glaucoma surgery. Early detection and regular ongoing monitoring are the key to prevent loss of vision from glaucoma.