Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Glaucoma is a common eye condition that affects the optic nerve, connecting the eye to the brain. If glaucoma isn’t diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to loss of vision. Read on to find out more about glaucoma causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye when, most commonly, fluid doesn’t drain properly. The increase in pressure damages the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain.

It’s more common in older adults in their 70s and 80s, but glaucoma can affect people of all ages.

If you're diagnosed and receive glaucoma treatment early, your vision will stop getting worse. Without treatment, glaucoma could eventually lead to blindness.

What are the different types of glaucoma?

There are different types of glaucoma. These include: 

  1. Primary open angle glaucoma - this is the most common form of glaucoma and it’s caused by a gradual blockage to drainage in the eye 

  2. Acute angle closure glaucoma - not so common, this type is caused by a sudden blockage to drainage in the eye causing sudden symptoms

  3. Secondary glaucoma - this is caused by an underlying eye condition, like uveitis

  4. Childhood glaucoma (congenital glaucoma) - this is a rare type of glaucoma that affects young children, caused by drainage blockages or an underlying medical condition

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

Glaucoma develops slowly over many years. At first, it affects your side vision (peripheral vision). It usually affects both eyes, but it might be worse in one eye.

As glaucoma doesn’t usually cause any symptoms to begin with, you might not realise you have it. It's often identified when you have a routine eye test.

Glaucoma symptoms might include: 

  • Blurred vision

  • Seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights 

If you’re experiencing glaucoma symptoms and are concerned about your vision, speak to a doctor or an optician. 

Rarely, glaucoma can start very suddenly. If you experience any severe eye pain, eye redness, headaches and feeling unwell then it’s important to go to your nearest eye casualty unit or A+E.  

What causes glaucoma?

It’s unclear exactly what causes glaucoma, but certain factors can increase the risk of it happening, like: 

  • Age - you're more likely to get glaucoma as you get older

  • Ethnicity - you’re more likely to develop it if you're of African, Caribbean or Asian origin

  • Family history - if you have a parent or sibling with it

  • Medical conditions - having short-sightedness, long-sightedness, and diabetes all increase your risk 

Can you test for glaucoma?

Glaucoma can be identified during a routine eye test. This is why it's essential to have regular routine eye tests. If your glaucoma is identified early, treatment can stop your vision from becoming severely affected.

A glaucoma diagnosis test is usually carried out by an optometrist if they suspect you might have it after your routine eye test. 

An optometrist might carry out the following tests:

  • An eye pressure test - this measures the pressure inside your eye

  • Gonioscopy - this examines the front part of your eye and how well fluid is draining in your eye

  • A visual field test - this checks for missing areas of vision

  • An optic nerve assessment - this helps to check whether your optic nerve is healthy 

If an optometrist identifies glaucoma from these tests, they will refer you to a specialist eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for further tests and potential treatment.

What is the best glaucoma treatment?

Glaucoma treatment can include surgery, eye drops, and laser treatment. Unfortunately, it won’t improve any loss of vision, but it will stop your vision from getting any worse.

1. Glaucoma eye drops

Glaucoma eye drops are the most common treatment for glaucoma and will help to reduce the pressure in your eyes.

You might need to try several types before you find the one that works best for you.

2. Laser treatment for glaucoma

If eye drops aren't improving your glaucoma symptoms, laser treatment might help. This involves a high-energy beam of light that’s carefully aimed at a part of your eye that will stop fluid building up.

Laser treatment for glaucoma is usually carried out under local anaesthetic (while you're awake). 

3. Glaucoma surgery

If glaucoma eye drops and laser treatment haven’t worked, an expert may recommend you have surgery. It can be done under local anaesthetic (while you're awake) or general anaesthetic (while you're asleep).

After glaucoma surgery, your eye might look red and feel watery, and your vision might be blurred for up to 6 weeks.

When should I speak to a doctor about glaucoma?

If you’re worried about glaucoma symptoms that have come on gradually, make an appointment for an eye test to speak to an optometrist. If your symptoms have come on quickly, then book an appointment to speak to a doctor.

Seek emergency help if you have:

  • Sudden blurred vision 

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Sudden sight loss

What can Livi do?

Livi’s healthcare professionals can help to talk through your symptoms and refer you for further tests if they suspect you may have glaucoma. 

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi