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Glaucoma is an eye condition that damages the optic nerve and can lead to sight loss and even blindness. Many people won't experience symptoms to begin with, and find out that they have glaucoma at a routine eye test. 

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye condition that damages the optic nerve that connects your eye to the brain. If it's not treated, the damage will affect your sight – it can lead to sight loss and even blindness.

Typically, glaucoma is caused by a build-up of fluid in the front of the eye, which leads to an increase in pressure inside the eye. It usually affects both eyes, though it may be worse in one eye.

There are many different types of glaucoma, which are often grouped into 'primary' and 'secondary' glaucomas. Glaucoma that isn't caused by another medical condition is called primary glaucoma, whereas glaucoma that is caused by another medical condition, such as cataracts, is called secondary glaucoma. 

Find out more about cataracts

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

Many people with glaucoma won’t experience any symptoms to begin with and find out they have glaucoma at a routine eye test.

The main symptom of glaucoma is a change in your sight. It can be a subtle change, such as blurred or foggy patches in your vision. This change usually affects your peripheral vision first and can often be more noticeable when you close one eye.

Over time, the symptoms of glaucoma do tend to get progressively worse, and you can experience sight loss before you experience any other signs of glaucoma. That’s why routine eye tests are so important, especially as we get older. 

Sometimes, primary glaucoma develops more rapidly and symptoms can come on suddenly. These can include things like: 

  • intense pain in the eye or red eyes
  • tenderness around your eye
  • headaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • blurred or affected vision.

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately and visit your nearest A&E.

Am I at risk of glaucoma?

Anyone can get glaucoma. But there are certain things that can increase your risk, such as:

  • Your age. Glaucoma is more common in older people
  • Your ethnicity. You’re more likely to get glaucoma if you’re of African, Caribbean or Asian origin
  • Your health. You’re more likely to get glaucoma if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or you’re short- or long-sighted.
  • Your family history. You’re more likely to get glaucoma if you have a close blood relative who also has it, such as a parent or sibling. If you’re diagnosed, you should tell your relatives.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself against glaucoma is have a regular eye test. If you’re over 60, you’re entitled to a free eye test every 2 years, though you may be advised to test more regularly.

You'll also get a free annual eye test if you're aged 40 or over and you have a close family member who's been diagnosed with glaucoma. 

What happens if I'm diagnosed with glaucoma?

Most people are diagnosed with glaucoma during a routine eye test. But if your optometrist thinks you may have glaucoma, there are several tests they might carry out, such as an eye pressure test or a visual field test.

Find out more about the tests an optometrist might carry out on the NHS website

If the tests suggest you do have glaucoma, you should then be referred to a specialist who will do some more tests and advise on possible treatment options.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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