Glaucoma is an eye condition where your optic nerve is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. 

This may be because your eye pressure is higher than normal, or because of a weakness to your optic nerve. Your eye needs a certain amount of pressure to keep the eyeball healthy and in the right shape. But if the pressure is too high, it can cause your optic nerve to become damaged at the point where it leaves your eye. This damage is called glaucoma.

Our Understanding Glaucoma guide is accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and is designed to give you a detailed understanding of your eye condition.

Download our full guide on glaucoma as a PDF

You can also download our full guide on glaucoma in Word.

What are the types of glaucoma? 

The main types of glaucoma are: 

  • Primary open angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma in the UK. It’s also known as chronic open angle glaucoma which means the damage to your optic nerve and changes to your sight happen very slowly over time.
  • Closed angle glaucoma, where damage to the optic nerve can happen very quickly due to a sudden rise in eye pressure.
  • Normal tension glaucoma, when an eye pressure within the normal range still causes damage to the optic nerve.
  • Secondary glaucoma, which occurs as a result of another eye condition, an injury to the eye or due to medication.
  • Congenital glaucoma, when a baby is born with glaucoma.

How can glaucoma affect my sight?

Most types of glaucoma have no symptoms, so a regular eye test is the only way to know you have the condition. You may not notice any difference in your vision because glaucoma affects your peripheral vision (also known as your side vision) first. As your peripheral vision is not as sensitive as your central vision, it’s difficult to notice any early changes to your vision – but your sight is being damaged.

Because you may not notice a problem until your glaucoma is more advanced, it’s important to have regular eye tests as this is the only way to know if you have it. The earlier your glaucoma is picked up and treated, the more of your sight can be protected.

What is the treatment for glaucoma?

All treatment for glaucoma aims to lower your eye pressure to prevent damage to your optic nerve and your sight. 

Treatment to lower your eye pressure usually starts with eye drops, and for most people with glaucoma, this is all the treatment they will ever need. But, these drops will need to be used long term or for life.

If it’s not possible to control your eye pressure with eye drops alone, your ophthalmologist (hospital eye doctor) may suggest laser treatment. 

In a very small number of people with glaucoma, where eye drops haven’t been successful in keeping the eye pressure stable, or where the glaucoma is advanced, surgery may be an option. The most common surgery for glaucoma is called a trabeculectomy.

Unfortunately, once sight loss occurs, it can’t be reversed as there are currently no treatments which can restore the damaged nerve. However, the treatments for glaucoma can help to prevent further optic nerve damage and any further loss of sight.

Ocular hypertension (high eye pressure)

Some people naturally have eye pressure above the normal range, but this pressure doesn’t cause any damage to their optic nerve. This is described as ocular hypertension rather than glaucoma. Some people’s optic nerves stay healthy at higher than normal eye pressures.

If you have ocular hypertension, it can increase your risk of developing glaucoma so this needs to be monitored. Sometimes you may be prescribed eye drops to help reduce your eye pressure and reduce your risk of developing glaucoma. If this is the case, you’ll be followed up at the eye clinic regularly to monitor your eye pressure. You may be discharged from the eye clinic if you don’t require eye drops and tests show that there is no sign of glaucoma. However, it’s important for you to visit your optometrist (optician) regularly for your eyes to be checked so that any future changes can be picked up. 

Managing your glaucoma 

Most people with glaucoma use eye drops for many years or for life. Using your drops regularly helps to keep your eye pressure under control and prevents damage to your sight. Not using your drops could, in the long term, make your glaucoma unstable and lead to permanent sight loss. Unfortunately, once sight loss due to glaucoma has occurred, it is not reversible.

It’s also very important to attend all your appointments at the eye clinic to make sure your eye pressure stays stable. This is because changes in eye pressure have no symptoms, and without regular checks you won’t be able to tell that your treatment is working. How often you need to be seen at the eye clinic will depend on how well your treatment is working.

Alex's top tips for putting in eye drops

In our video, Alex talks about his tips for putting in eye drops. The International Glaucoma Association (IGA) also have lots of useful information on why drops are important, different techniques to put your drops in and the aids that are available to help.

You may also be interested in...