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What is glaucoma?

The glaucomas’ are a group of eye diseases that result in permanent damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision. There are several types of glaucoma but the two most common are Primary Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG) and Angle Closure Glaucoma (ACG). POAG is a silent condition meaning that it produces no symptoms until the damage is done and vision is lost. The only way to detect POAG is by having regular eye examinations. Your risk of developing POAG rises if you have, for example, a close family member with the disease, if you are elderly, smoke, are highly myopic or of Afro-Caribbean origin. When you have an eye examination your optometrist will ask about your family history of eye disease and will measure the intraocular pressure in your eyes, usually using a painless air-puff tonometer. When the Optometrist looks inside your eye she is looking at the optic nerve because the shape of the nerve can change in glaucoma. Finally, you will have your visual fields measured by asking you to detect flashing lights. You may also undergo a special scan of your optic nerve called an OCT – Optical Coherence Tomography – which can reveal more subtle changes in the appearance of the nerve. All these tests are required to assess the likelihood you have glaucoma. It is difficult to detect glaucoma during a single eye examination because often it is change that reveals the presence of the disease. Hence the reason regular eye examinations are recommended and why annual eye examinations are free for those aged over 40 and who have a close family history of glaucoma. The condition is often managed – never cured – with eye drops which are taken for life.

Angle Closure Glaucoma on the other hand is less common and tends to be uncomfortable, quick onset and characterised by high pressures in the eye. Vision may also blur quickly. This is treated with a combination of eye drops and oral medication and is a medical emergency.

No matter which kind of glaucoma may develop the best chance of controlling it successfully always begins with early detection by an eye examination.

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