Did you know that January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month; a month dedicated to combating the debilitating condition that can even cause vision loss?

What better way to mark it than to learn more about the condition, who is at risk of developing it, and how it can be diagnosed and treated.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the term used to describe a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve located at the back of your eye. The optic nerve sends signals from your eyes to your brain, which then translates them into images.

When nerve fibres suffer damage in this way, you initially lose your peripheral vision (at the side). The vision loss creeps further into your view, ultimately leading to complete and permanent vision loss if not detected in time.

Glaucoma causes loss of peripheral vision

The most common cause of damage to the optic nerve is increased pressure in the eye. This can be as a result of a number of different conditions.

Glaucoma can also be present in people with normal levels of pressure in the eye. In these circumstances, the damage to the optic nerve is believed to be as a result of inadequate blood supply to the optic nerve.

Who is most at risk of developing glaucoma?

While anyone has the potential to develop glaucoma, you are most at risk if:

  • You have diabetes – this makes you twice as likely to develop glaucoma.
  • There is a history of glaucoma in your family.
  • You suffer from Raynaud’s disease.
  • You are aged over 40.
  • You suffer from migraine headaches.
  • You have elevated eye pressure.
  • You have had an injury to your eye previously.
  • You are particularly long- or short-sighted.
  • You are currently using steroids or have used them in the past.
  • You have central thinning of the cornea.

How is glaucoma diagnosed?

Glaucoma does not usually produce early symptoms, although in the later stages patients may notice loss of peripheral vision or even pain in their eyes.

Because of this, anyone at higher risk of glaucoma is advised to get regular checks on their eyes before symptoms show up.

For a glaucoma diagnosis, your eye health professional will perform a number of tests to see what’s going on with your eyes. These include:

  • A tonometry test which measures the pressure in the eye.
  • A pachymetry test which calculates the thickness of the cornea.
  • A gonioscopy test which looks at how the fluid drains out of the eye.
  • An optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan to take a close-up look of the optic nerve.
  • A visual acuity test using a chart with different sized letters.
  • A visual field test which looks at your peripheral vision.
  • Looking at your eyes using drops to dilate the pupils.


Measuring corneal thickness

Measuring corneal thickness

How can glaucoma be treated?

While if left untreated glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness, the good news is that, if it is picked up early enough treatment is effective in stopping further vision loss.

Treatment options include:

  • Eye drops to reduce pressure in the eyes.
  • Laser surgery to improve drainage and reduce pressure in the eyes.
  • Conventional surgery – this is usually offered if your eyes deteriorate despite eye drops and/or laser treatment.

The benefits of laser surgery for glaucoma

Glaucoma laser treatment is a great option, not least because it can be carried out in a clinic rather than a hospital and does not require an overnight stay.

Although it may sound daunting, the anaesthetic drops given mean that the patient does not experience pain and make the procedure straightforward and quick to recover from.

Your laser eye surgeon may perform one of two procedures.

Selective laser trabeculoplasty targets the drainage channels in the eye to relieve them of waste and improve the outflow of fluid. This means that eye pressure is lowered.

In YAG laser peripheral iridotomy, a channel is made in the iris which helps improve the drainage of fluid and in turn lowers pressure in the eye.

Many patients who have undergone these procedures find them convenient and minimally invasive, with full recovery after only a few weeks.

What’s more, the success rate in lowering pressure in the eye after laser treatment is excellent.

Seek expert advice at the George Street Eye Centre in Sydney

At the George Street Eye Centre in Sydney, we offer a comprehensive eye health service, including laser treatment for glaucoma. If you have concerns about your vision or wish to find out more about our eye services, give us a call on (02) 9230 0010 or use our online form to contact us for expert advice.