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Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases in which vision is lost due to optic nerve damage. Glaucoma eye diseases result in progressive vision loss, the beginning stages of which often go unnoticed at first. This is why it's so important to understand what glaucoma is, why it occurs, its symptoms, and how to treat it.

What is glaucoma?

Simply put, glaucoma is progressive vision loss caused by damage to the optic nerve. It's usually the peripheral vision that begins to go before one notices that something is wrong. However, the exact type of vision loss may vary depending on the type of glaucoma. These include:

  • Angle-Closure: This type is more frequently seen among people of Asian descent. It occurs when the iris bulges forward to narrow the drainage angle of the iris and cornea, preventing proper fluid circulation.
  • Open-Angle: More common among Caucasians, this type of glaucoma is caused by the nourishing liquid of the front eye flowing improperly. This creates pressure that can damage the optic nerve.
  • Normal-Tension: This involves high eye pressure with gradual optic nerve damage and loss of peripheral vision.
  • Congenital Glaucoma: This rarer type of glaucoma comes from a birth defect in the angle of the eye. The poor development of the eye eventually begins causing intraocular pressure, which can turn into glaucoma.  
  • Secondary Glaucoma: People acquire this type of glaucoma because of other medical issues. This includes cataracts, diabetes, eye injuries, inflammation, or side effects from certain medicines.

Signs and symptoms of glaucoma

The initial symptom of glaucoma is basically the decrease in peripheral vision. However, it becomes quite difficult to detect this at the initial stage especially due to lack of pain or discomfort. As the symptoms continue to build such as a higher pressure in the optic nerve, the vision loss increases making it more evident for the person to get an eye test as soon as possible for detection and treatment.

Glaucoma symptoms
vary depending on the type and stage of the disease. The most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, typically presents no obvious signs or symptoms in the early stages. People with open-angle glaucoma don't tend to notice the early vision loss as a result. However, once things escalate in severity, there will be some common symptoms to look out for. These include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness

If you're suffering from open-angle glaucoma, you may notice patchy blind spots in your peripheral or central vision. You may also experience tunnel vision once the glaucoma has entered its advanced stages. Either way, you should visit an emergency room or an eye doctor if you begin experiencing these symptoms.

The causes of glaucoma

Glaucoma is typically caused by an increase in intraocular pressure (IOP). This increase can cause progressive damage to the optic nerve. For some people, high eye pressure manifests solely as ocular hypertension. For others, including some with normal eye pressure, this damage results in glaucoma.

So, what causes this increase in IOP? It's a clear liquid called aqueous humour, which our eyes are constantly producing. This fluid nourishes the eye and is then drained out through the anterior chamber angle (or drainage angle). If the angle is damaged, the fluid can't drain properly. This leads to the eyes producing more fluid than they can drain, which causes a high IOP.

The increase in pressure begins to damage the optic nerve, which is made up of about one million nerve fibres. These nerve fibres are what connect the eye to the brain. When these fibres are harmed, they can cause irreversible vision loss.

Your risk of developing glaucoma

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but there are a few factors that could put you at a higher risk. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, is hereditary. If someone in your immediate family has glaucoma, your chance of acquiring it is several times higher than the average person. Your age can also be a factor, as glaucoma is more common among those aged 50 or older.

Diagnosing and treating glaucoma

In Australia, most Glaucoma cases were never diagnosed or detected at an early stage. In order to detect it early and prevent blindness, you must ensure to go for regular eye tests to an optometrist or ophthalmologist. It is essential to check for factors such as the eye pressure, damage to the optic nerve, loss of visual field and the angle where the iris meets the cornea.

How to prevent glaucoma

Unfortunately, there are no known ways of preventing glaucoma. It can, however, be treated. That's why it's important to get regular eye checks, even if you think your vision is fine. Most glaucoma cases aren't diagnosed or detected in the early stages, largely because people don't notice the onset of the condition. If you go in for regular appointments, an eye doctor can check for various signs of glaucoma, including:

  • High eye pressure
  • Loss of vision
  • Damage to the optic nerve

If your glaucoma is detected earlier, there's a much better chance that your vision can be saved. This can be done through several treatments, all of which aim to lower your eye pressure. Your options may vary based on your specific condition, but the typical glaucoma treatment plan consists of a combination of these:

  • Prescription eye drops
  • Laser treatment
  • Oral medications
  • Surgery

Glaucoma's effect on vision

When people learn they have glaucoma, they naturally begin to wonder how it might disrupt their day-to-day life. First, it's important to establish just how glaucoma affects your vision. Glaucoma causes a variety of vision issues, such as:

  • Loss of contrast sensitivity
  • Light sensitivity
  • Problems with glare
  • Loss of peripheral and night vision

Some people with glaucoma vision worry that the above issues will make it difficult for them to spend time outdoors. Thankfully, you can still be outside for long periods of time, even if you have glaucoma. If you find that you're experiencing a lot of light sensitivity, you should definitely buy a pair of sunglasses with high UV protection.

Many sufferers also wonder, "Can you legally drive with glaucoma?" The answer to this question depends on the severity of the glaucoma. While most evidence suggests that glaucoma can impair your driving skills, there is a possibility you can continue driving for some time after being diagnosed. However, if you decide to get back behind the wheel, it's essential to check in with an eye doctor beforehand.

Book an eye test with 1001 Optometry

Anyone who fears they may be suffering from glaucoma in Australia can look to 1001 Optometry for help. As professional optometrists and eyewear experts, we're here to support you. You can book an eye test from one of our 15+ locations across New South Wales and Victoria, to screen for glaucoma and receive a referral to the ophthalmologist.

We also sell a wide selection of high-quality eyewear and glasses frames from leading brands at reasonable prices. If you have any questions about our eyewear or would like to book an appointment, please call +61 2 9439 9912, email, or fill out our online enquiry form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.


What does glaucoma affect?

Glaucoma is caused by high eye pressure, progressively damaging the optic nerve and affecting your vision. The condition may cause other physical symptoms that appear unrelated to your eyes, including nausea and vomiting.

What happens if glaucoma goes untreated?

If left untreated or treated incorrectly, glaucoma can result in a severe loss of vision or blindness. The longer the fluid builds up and the pressure damages the optic nerve, the worse the vision loss will be.

Does glaucoma always cause blindness?

Glaucoma can cause blindness if left untreated. Unfortunately, it may even result in full or partial blindness for those who receive treatment. That said, the chances of your glaucoma progressing into blindness are considerably lower if you receive treatment relatively early.

Is glaucoma treatment covered under Medicare?

Your eye test could be completely covered under Medicare, though you'll need to contact the store where you plan on getting the test to know for sure. For further treatment, you should get in touch with your private health insurance provider. You may be able to claim benefits on a number of products.

Can you wear contact lenses with glaucoma?

Yes, most people with glaucoma can wear contact lenses without any trouble. The only instance in which glaucoma patients would have difficulty wearing contact lenses is after receiving glaucoma filtering surgery.