Don’t know much about the eye condition glaucoma? You’re not alone. Here are the facts:

[Eye health: Your questions answered]

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when fluid doesn’t drain from your eyes properly which then causes damage to the optic nerve and can, if not treated in time, lead to loss of vision. The NHS believes that more than 500,000 people in England and Wales have glaucoma.

Types of glaucoma

Primary/Chronic Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG) – The most common form of glaucoma, this develops slowly and there are often no symptoms until you start losing your vision.

Angle-closure Glaucoma – Relatively uncommon, while it’s often a chronic condition, it can also happen very quickly (acute) where you suddenly get a very painful build up of pressure in your eye which can result in rapid vision loss.

Congenital glaucoma – This affects infants and is caused by abnormalities in the eye.

Secondary Glaucoma – A type of the condition that happens due to another issue – for example if you have suffered an eye injury  

Who’s at risk? 

The majority of sufferers will be at least 40 and it becomes more common the older you get. People with diabetes or those from African descent are more at risk and if there is a history of glaucoma in your family and if your immediate family (parents or siblings) suffer, you’re also at a higher risk of developing it.

[Read more: 6 unexpected diseases an eye test can spot]

What are the symptoms?

Lots of people with glaucoma suffer with a high pressure within the eye (known as intraocular pressure or IOP) and if you do have this it can be a risk factor for glaucoma. However, unfortunately for many people, up to the point you begin to lose vision, there are very few symptoms - in fact it’s estimated that up to 50% of people in developed countries don’t know they have it during the early stages.

“The scary thing with glaucoma is that you can have it but not be aware of it, by the time you do realise something’s wrong with your vision, the damage is done. You can then prevent it from getting worse but you can’t recover your previous vision,” says Van Der Veen.

Can you prevent it?

While it’s hard, you can at least stop it in its tracks before it leads to vision impairment. If you’re over 40 or at high-risk, you’ll need to see an eye specialist regularly to check for the eye disorder. Check-ups should take place at the following intervals…

• Those at high risk – every 1-2 years after age 35
• Before age 40, every 2-4 years
• Age 40-54 – every 1-3 years
• Age 55-64 - every 1-2 years
• Age 65+ - every 6-12 months

In addition there is evidence that if you take regular moderate exercise this can help lower your IOP, though those who do have IOP should avoid exercise which involves shoulder or headstands…

And can you treat it?

It’s likely you’ll be prescribed eye drops and if required, you might even need surgery. If you think you’re at risk, make an appointment with your optometrist.

For more information on Glaucoma visit World Glaucoma Week or World Glaucoma Organisation

Like this story? Share it with your friends by clicking the orange plus sign below.