The ability to see is one of the most essential senses we have, but millions of people around the world are unaware that they are at risk of losing their sight due to glaucoma. However, a new eye test, developed by University College London could prove groundbreaking when it comes to preventing glaucoma in the future.
Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Detecting the condition early is the most effective way to prevent glaucoma from causing long-term damage. However this has proven to be a problem since the symptoms are not always obvious and can go unnoticed for years. Many patients will have already lost one-third of their vision by the time glaucoma has been diagnosed. This newly developed test will allow examiners to see individual cell death in the eye and, for the first time, pick up the earliest signs of glaucoma.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition in the eye which occurs when the optic nerve between the eye and brain becomes damaged. The most common cause of this is fluid in the eye which is not drained properly; this increases pressure inside the eye and eventually leads to optic nerve problems. When it goes undetected and untreated, glaucoma can lead to total loss of vision.
The four main types of glaucoma are:
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
This is by far the most prevalent form of glaucoma. With Primary Open Angle Glaucoma, sight loss occurs gradually over time.
Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma
Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma occurs when eye pressure increases very suddenly. This form of the condition is very painful and must be treated immediately to avoid permanent sight loss.
This type of glaucoma occurs as a result of a pre-existing eye condition, an operation or injury.
This is an extremely rare condition which occurs in new-born babies. It is usually detected and diagnosed within the first few years of a child’s life and can be managed by specialist clinics.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest obstacle in the prevention of glaucoma is the fact that many people don’t realise they have it until it is too late, due to the fact that symptoms don’t always present themselves in the early stages. Most cases of glaucoma that are diagnosed early enough to prevent sight loss are detected during routine eye tests.
When glaucoma symptoms do occur, they can include:
- intense eye pain
- red eyes
- tenderness around the eyes
- seeing rings around lights
- blurred vision
Preventing Glaucoma – The New Test
Researchers at UCL and Western Eye Hospital have developed the eye test that will allow doctors to see individual nerve cell death in the back of the eye for the first time. This test will allow early detection of glaucoma, meaning that treatment can start straight away and will stop sight loss from occurring.
The process of this test involves injecting the bloodstream with a fluorescent dye while taking photographic images of the eye. The dye will cause dying or dead retinal nerve cells to show up as white spots in the images.
This technique is called DARC (detection of apoptosing retinal cells) and only requires the use of routine hospital equipment. The researchers behind the study believe that it will one day be available for opticians in clinics and specialist eye hospitals to conduct the test. The hope is that this test will eventually have a huge impact on the prevention of glaucoma.
Eye Health Services
The most effective way to treat glaucoma and prevent long-term sight loss as a result of the condition is to detect and diagnose it early on. For this reason, it is crucial to take good care of you eye health at all times.
If you are concerned about your eyes, there are plenty of places to go in East Berkshire outside of practice hours:
For urgent treatment, call or visit the Eye Clinic at King Edward Hospital in Windsor. There is also an Eye Casualty at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Patients can attend this unit in cases of accidents and emergencies which have damaged the eyes within the last 48 hours.
For non-urgent treatment, it is best to arrange an appointment with an optician. If you’re not yet registered with an optician service, you can find one conveniently close to you by typing your postcode in the search-bar provided on this page.
If you have already been diagnosed with glaucoma and are in need of support or advice, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have a comprehensive selection of resources to help you cope with daily life while dealing with vision impairment.