Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve (the nerve at the back of the eye) is damaged, often in association with raised pressure within the eye. This leads to a reduction in the field of vision and in the ability to see clearly. In most cases the patient will experience no symptoms until significant damage has occurred.

Who is at risk from glaucoma?

People aged 40 and over are at greater risk from glaucoma and there is an increasing risk with every decade of life. Those with a family history of glaucoma in close relatives, or in certain ethnic groups (e.g. Afro-Caribbean people) are considered to have a greater than average risk. People who diabetic or very short-sighted are also more prone to glaucoma.


How do optometrists check for glaucoma?

There are three main tests to see if you have glaucoma:

  • The first one is where your optometrist looks at the nerve at the back of your eye. They may also take a photograph of the nerve, this can be useful for future visits, to monitor changes.
  • The second test is where the pressure inside your eye is measured. This is generally done by gently blowing a puff of air at your eye, or in some cases by numbing your eye with drops and then gently pressing an instrument called a tonometer against it. The tests do not hurt, although the puff of air may make you jump a little!
  • The third test is where the optometrist tests your visual field.  Each eye is patched in turn and you are given a button to press every time you see a dot.

Sometimes you can have glaucoma even if you have low pressure inside the eye. We do not rely on pressure alone to diagnose glaucoma.

What will happen if I have glaucoma?

If we suspect that you may have glaucoma, we will refer you to an ophthalmologist (an eye specialist doctor). If you do have glaucoma, you will be given eye drops to use every day, which will reduce the pressure.

Because glaucoma does not hurt it is very important that you:

  • keep your follow-up appointments to have your eye pressures checked; and
  • keep on using the drops. If you find it hard to use the eye drops, you can get special bottles or holders to make it easier.

There is no cure for glaucoma but it can be treated effectively, normally with eye drops. Any existing eye damage will probably be permanent, but your sight could get much worse if you stop the treatment. It is very important that you use the eye drops every day.

I have glaucoma. Can I drive?

If you drive a car and have been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, this will affect the amount you can see, and the law says that you must tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority). You may have to take some extra tests, but most people are still allowed to carry on driving.


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