During World Glaucoma Week (6-12 March), the College of Optometrists is urging those over 40 to be aware of their increased risk of developing glaucoma – a debilitating eye condition which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent blindness.

Glaucoma affects approximately 480,000 people in England. It’s a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, is damaged by the pressure of fluid inside the eye. The most common form of the condition in the UK, open-angle glaucoma, is symptomless in the early stages, which means people can suffer from it for a long time without knowing, resulting in permanent eye damage.  It can affect one or both eyes but normally happens in one eye first.

While anyone can develop glaucoma, the risk increases for those aged over 40 and it increases further for those aged over 40 with a family member who suffers from the condition. Other people who are at risk of glaucoma are people of African or Caribbean descent who are up to six times more likely to develop glaucoma than white people, and more likely to develop it younger than white people (by about 10 years). The College is advising those at risk of developing glaucoma to have a sight test at least every two years, or more often if your optometrist recommends it.

People who are most at risk of glaucoma are:

  • those aged over 40
  • people who are very short-sighted or very long sighted
  • those closely related to someone with glaucoma
  • people who are of African Caribbean descent or of south Asian or east Asian descent
  • women
  • people who have raised pressure within their eye. This is called ocular hypertension (OHT).

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, Clinical Adviser to the College of Optometrists said: “Glaucoma often has no symptoms until significant vision has been lost, and this vision cannot be restored, so early detection is vital to reduce the chance of further sight loss.

“Research recently published in the medical journal Ophthalmology found that glaucoma may now be detected up to eight years before any sight loss is experienced, and this highlights just how important is it to have a regular sight tests. This will give you the best chance of avoiding sight loss from this potentially blinding condition.”

If you are on certain benefits, aged over 60, or over 40 and one of your parents, children, or a brother or sister has glaucoma, the NHS will pay for your sight test.  In Scotland all eye examinations are paid for by the NHS.