Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye condition usually caused by a build-up of fluid, leading to high pressure in the eye. This pressure can cause optic nerve damage. Early treatment is key to limiting the extent of sight loss with this common condition. 

On this page

Glaucoma symptoms and signs 

Glaucoma tends to affect your peripheral (side) vision first, meaning you might not notice it in the early stages. Symptoms usually appear slowly, so many people aren’t aware they have the condition.

This is one reason why regular eye exams are so important. If you're over 40 and have a family history of glaucoma, you can get a free eye test on the NHS.

Speak to your GP or eye doctor about any changes in your vision, such as seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights or blurred vision.

Glaucoma causes and definition

Glaucoma is defined as a condition caused by increased pressure in the eye, usually triggering slow loss of vision. This happens when fluid isn't able to drain away from the eye as it normally would. The build-up of pressure can also restrict blood flow to the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, and it’s this that causes sight loss.

The specific cause depends on the type of glaucoma you have. Symptoms may not be noticeable, so routine eye tests are crucial to spotting it early enough to be treated effectively.

Who is at risk of glaucoma?

There are several risk factors that lead to an increased risk of developing glaucoma. These include:

  • High eye pressure (known as intraocular pressure)
  • A family history of the eye condition
  • Diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Previous eye injury or eye surgery
  • Ethnicity - some types of glaucoma are more common among people who are black or Asian

Older adults in their 70s and 80s are most likely to be diagnosed with glaucoma, though it can affect anyone. About one in 50 people over the age of 40 in the UK are living with glaucoma (Source: NICE).

Types of glaucoma 

There are several types of glaucoma. In most, symptoms develop slowly. This is because the pressure causing damage to the optic nerve is increasing gradually. However, if left untreated, glaucoma can result in vision loss.

Treating glaucoma 

Glaucoma treatments aim to reduce the increased pressure in the eye. The damage caused by glaucoma can’t be reversed, but further damage can be prevented with treatment. This may include eye drops, laser treatment or surgery.

The right treatment can depend on the type of glaucoma you have but normally involves:

  • Eye drops – these are taken regularly for a long time. They work to reduce the build-up of fluid and prevent any further sight loss.
  • Laser treatment - involves carefully targeting a laser at part of the eye to stop fluid build-up.
  • Surgery – in some cases, this might be considered. The most common operation for glaucoma is a trabeculectomy. This procedure creates a new channel in the eye that allows fluid to drain away, relieving pressure inside the eye.

Many people live well with glaucoma, and there's plenty of great advice to help if you're diagnosed.

When to get medical advice

If you’re at all worried about your vision, see an optician or your GP as soon as you can.

The NHS recommends having an eye test every two years. With regular eye examinations, you’re more likely to catch problems sooner, improve your eye health and get an early diagnosis of glaucoma or other eye diseases.

If the optician even suspects you have glaucoma, for example, after doing a visual field test, they’ll refer you straight to a specialist (usually an ophthalmologist) for more tests.

Frequently asked questions

Reviewed in December 2021


In this section...

Information about the symptoms of glaucoma to help diagnose it early.

What to expect when being treated for glaucoma, and tips to help you confidently manage treatment.

Get advice for managing glaucoma, the impact it can have on your vision in the future and the support others have accessed.

How do people with sight loss see the world around them? Check out these images of UK landmarks to find out.

Get ideas and support to help develop the skills you need to live independently.

Find out how technology can help you live independently with sight loss, from specialist assistive technology to apps and Apple accessibility features.