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Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve, is damaged by the pressure of the fluid inside your eye. This may be because the pressure is higher than normal, or because the nerve is more susceptible to damage from pressure. This may affect one or both of your eyes.

Because you cannot feel the pressure, you may not know you have glaucoma until a lot of damage has been done. Any damage is always permanent. If you are at risk of developing glaucoma, you should have an eye examination at least every two years, or more often if your optometrist recommends it.

If you have glaucoma but do not treat it, your eyesight will gradually get worse, and you could eventually go blind. The treatment is usually with eye drops and is simple and painless.

Who gets glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma. The risk of developing glaucoma goes up if you are:

  • aged over 40
  • very short-sighted
  • closely related to someone with glaucoma.

If one of your parents or children, or a brother or sister, has glaucoma, and you are over 40, the NHS will pay for your eye examination.

How is glaucoma detected?

There are three main tests to see if you have glaucoma. The first one is where your optometrist looks at the nerve at the back of your eye. They may also take a photograph of the nerve, this can be useful for future visits, to monitor changes.

The second test is where the pressure inside your eye is measured. This may be done by gently blowing a puff of air at your eye, or by numbing your eye with drops and then gently pressing an instrument called a tonometer against it. The tests do not hurt, although the puff of air may make you jump!

The third test is where the optometrist tests your visual field.

Sometimes you can have glaucoma even if you have low pressure inside the eye. We do not rely on pressure alone to diagnose glaucoma.

What will happen if I have glaucoma?

If your optometrist suspects that you may have glaucoma, we will refer you to an ophthalmologist. If you do have glaucoma, you will be given eye drops to use every day, which will reduce the pressure.

Because glaucoma does not hurt it is very important that you:

  • go to your follow-up appointments; and
  • keep on using the drops. If you find it hard to use the eye drops, you can get special bottles or holders to make it easier.

There is no cure for glaucoma but it can be treated effectively, normally with eye drops. Any existing eye damage will probably be permanent, but your sight could get much worse if you stop the treatment. It is very important that you use the eye drops every day.

I have glaucoma. Can I drive?

If you drive a car and have been diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes, this will affect the amount you can see, and the law says that you must tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority). You may have to take some extra tests, but most people are still allowed to carry on driving. You can find out more at www.direct.gov.uk/driverhealth