Glaucoma- Silent Thief of Sight

Glaucoma is a very common eye condition and one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in the UK. By being aware of it, we can detect it early on and therefore reduce its impact.

So what is Glaucoma?

Your eye has pressure just like your blood and when this Intra-ocular Pressure (IOP) increases to dangerous levels; it damages the nerve at the back of the eye, the optic nerve. This can result in decreased peripheral vision and eventually blindness.
Glaucoma is often called the “silent thief of sight” as there very few warning signs, no hint that anything is wrong. About half of sufferers of glaucoma do not realise they have it. Glaucoma gradually reduces your peripheral vision, but by the time most people become aware of it permanent damage has already occurred. If the pressure inside the eye remains high, the destruction can progress until tunnel vision develops and only objects which are straight ahead are visible.

How is Glaucoma detected?

As there are virtually no symptoms in the early stages it is important to have regular eye health checks every two years even if you do not require glasses. A series of completely painless tests can detect the pressure of glaucoma. It is mainly treated by using drops which need to be used every day to reduce eye pressure and then maintain it at a low level. Occasionally laser surgery is required to assist in the lowering of the pressure.

Diabetic Eye Disease

It may come as some surprise but diabetes is now the most common cause of blindness amongst the working-age population in Western Europe. There are several ways in which diabetes can affect the eyes, most commonly a temporary blurring of the vision before diagnosis; this tends to be a result of uncontrolled blood sugar level. Once the condition has been diagnosed and the appropriate treatment administered, this blurring tends to resolve and vision returns to normal. This short-term change in vision can also be a good indicator to diabetics that their blood sugar is not being properly controlled.
However, diabetes can remain without visual symptoms for a long time and in these cases unseen damage can occur due to leaking blood vessels both in the eyes and elsewhere in the body. Should such damage occur in the eyes it is termed diabetic retinopathy – this is damage to the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye (the retina). The problems occur when the fine blood vessels in the retina start to leak and disrupt the blood supply around the retina. To prevent this loss of supply, new vessels are formed but these vessels tend to be weak and easily damaged causing further leakage and eventually scar tissue formation. As a result the retina of the eye is permanently damaged causing loss of vision.
Significant diabetic retinopathy of this nature can be prevented in most cases with careful diet and medicated control. In those cases where damage has already occurred, the new blood vessels can be sealed via laser treatment. This is designed to save the remaining sight but will not improve on what has been lost. It has been estimated that up to 95% of those with significant diabetic retinopathy can avoid substantial visual loss if treated in time. The best way to attempt to avoid diabetic eye disease is to maintain blood sugar levels as advised by your doctor and attend for regular check-ups. It is also recommended that you see your optician at least annually for a dilated eye examination or retinal photograph.

Macular Degeneration

This is a progressive condition that can affect people as they get older. The part of the retina responsible for seeing fine detail is called the macula and it is affected in age related macular degeneration. Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. As macular degeneration is an age related process it usually involves both eyes, although they may not be affected at the same time.

Dry and Wet Macular Degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration is the most common form and usually causes gradual changes in vision because the visual cells simply cease to function. Like the colours fading in an old photograph.
In wet macular degeneration, vision can drop quickly due to the rupture of small blood vessels beneath the macula resulting in a large scar behind the eye.

What are the symptoms?

In the early stages central vision may be blurred or distorted, with things looking an unusual size or shape. Some people notice a black patch or black spot in the centre of their sight. If you suspect that you may have macular degeneration you should see your doctor or optician, who will exam the macula closely with an instrument called an Ophthalmoscope. Another test that may be used is a grid pattern called an Amsler Chart which resembles a piece of graph paper. Patients with macular degeneration often report that sections of the grid appear distorted or missing.


For treatment of macular degeneration to be effective it must be diagnosed as early as possible, as damage cannot be reversed. With dry macular degeneration, vitamins and minerals are often prescribed to prevent further progression e.g. I-Caps which contain high amounts of carotene (found in carrots) as well as diet alteration to include a lot of fruit and vegetables.
With wet macular degeneration where new blood vessels have appeared laser surgery may be used. In this treatment a focused, intense beam of laser light is used to seal off leaking blood vessels and to prevent new blood vessels growing.

The two most important things we can do to help ourselves avoid macular degeneration are;
• Improve our diet to include coloured vegetables such as peppers and spinach.
• Reduce alcohol intake and stop smoking.