Glaucoma – why you shouldn’t ignore the danger signs

When Howard was 62 years old he started to suffer with bloodshot eyes and terrible headaches. He went to his optician and had a sight test, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with his eyes. He was given a new prescription for his glasses, which Howard hoped would solve the problem.

Howard kept suffering from headaches and bloodshot eyes on and off for the next few months. One morning he woke up with what felt like a bad infection in his eyes. They felt very sore and swollen and he could barely open them. He went to A&E and was examined by a doctor. The doctor recorded that Howard had lost some of the sight in his right eye, but he didn’t refer his on to an eye specialist in the hospital. He told him that his problems were caused by conjunctivitis and cataracts and sent him home.

Howard was reassured that there wasn’t anything serious with his eyes. He kept having problems with sore eyes and headaches and blurred vision, but he assumed that his cataracts were the problem. He thought that at some point he would have to have them taken out, but he didn’t think he needed any urgent treatment.

About 4 months after he went to A&E, Howard woke up one morning and found he had lost his sight. He went to hospital and was told that he had glaucoma. This had been causing damage for the last few months but it hadn’t been diagnosed. The doctors were able to give Howard laser treatment and medication to stop the glaucoma from getting any worse, but they couldn’t reverse the damage that had already been done. Howard has lost his sight and is now registered blind.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is caused by fluid collecting in the eye, which causes the pressure in the eye to build. This eventually causes damage to the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Once damage has been done to the optic nerve, it can’t be undone.

If glaucoma is picked up early enough, it can be treated with medication and laser treatment to drain the fluid from the eye and keep the pressure down.

What are the symptoms to watch out for?

Glaucoma often doesn’t cause symptoms at the beginning, although it might already be causing some damage to your eyes and vision. This is why it’s so important to have an eye test at least every 2 years, and more often if you have diabetes, if you’re aged 70 or over, or if you’re aged 40 or over and you have a family history of glaucoma.

You should also seek medical help straight away if you do have any symptoms. If the glaucoma develops gradually, which is what usually happens, the symptoms can include:

  • blurred vision
  • seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights.

If the glaucoma develops suddenly, which is more rare, the symptoms can include:

  • intense eye pain
  • tenderness around the eyes
  • red eyes
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • blurred vision
  • seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights.

In Howard’s case, the damage to his sight affected his peripheral vision (the edges of his sight) first, which he hadn’t even noticed was happening. The doctor in A&E had recorded that he had lost some sight in his right eye and should have referred him straight to an eye specialist in the hospital. This was especially important because of Howard’s headaches and his red and sore eyes. If Howard had seen a specialist at that time, his glaucoma would have been diagnosed and treated. He would only have lost some of his peripheral vision and the rest of his vision would have been saved.

If you have suffered any loss to your vision from glaucoma and you think it should have been diagnosed earlier, please contact us.