Your glaucoma guide: support tips for glaucoma patients

In this guide, we talk about everything you need to know about glaucoma. This includes what glaucoma is, symptoms to be aware of, treatment options available, and support for people with glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease that affects your eyes. It is often characterised by abnormally high pressure within your eye. This progressive condition causes damage to the optic nerve, resulting in gradual and irreversible sight loss.

Early detection of the disease, along with treatment, is important to prevent permanent sight loss or blindness.

Facts about glaucoma include:

  • It is the world’s second leading cause of blindness.
  • Most people don’t know they have the disease until they are at risk of permanent vision loss (this is why annual eye appointments are crucial).
  • Glaucoma can be diagnosed at any time in your life (there’s a myth that it only affects older people).

What is the first sign of glaucoma?

There are several types of glaucoma. The most common type of glaucoma is called primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). It typically develops slowly over many years and accounts for approximately 90 to 95% of cases. It occurs when the eye’s natural fluid builds up due to overproduction or a blockage in the drainage pathways.

In the early stages, primary open-angle glaucoma has no noticeable symptoms. This is why regular eye exams are so important. Once you start noticing vision changes caused by glaucoma (such as blind spots), the optic nerve has been permanently damaged and it is too late to regain any vision that has already been lost.

This lack of warning is one of the reasons why glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness across the world.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

As the condition progresses, you might start noticing worsening symptoms, such as:

  • intense eye pain,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • a red eye,
  • headaches,
  • tenderness around your eyes,
  • seeing rings (halos) around lights,
  • blurred vision.

Most types of glaucoma develop gradually, so in the early stages, there are no symptoms.

Glaucoma sight loss can be quite subtle, especially at the start. Some people with glaucoma notice misty or blurry patches in their vision, particularly if they close one eye. It’s important to get medical advice if you begin to notice any of these symptoms.

What are the stages of glaucoma?

Glaucoma has four stages that are based on your condition’s severity. These stages can also help determine the right treatment for you.

Stage one: changes to the optic nerve and the eyes’ ability to drain fluid.

Stage two: you or your loved ones might start to notice symptoms, such as blurred vision.

Stage three: often characterised as an ‘advanced stage’. Your doctor might recommend interventions like surgery.

Stage four: occurs when little to no healthy eye tissue is left. Vision might be limited and the risk of blindness increases.

Is glaucoma hereditary?

Yes, glaucoma can be hereditary. People with a family history of glaucoma are four to nine times more likely to develop glaucoma. If you have a family history of glaucoma, it is important to let your optician know as soon as possible. By knowing this information, your optician can proactively lookout for early signs of glaucoma and take the necessary steps to treat and slow it down.

Can I prevent glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a complex disease. There are no fool-proof methods to prevent glaucoma. However, there are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting it. These include:

  • Knowing your family history: if glaucoma runs in your family, tell your doctor or optician. This way, they can lookout for early signs to help slow it down.
  • Getting your eyes checked regularly: typically, there are no physical symptoms of glaucoma, which is why regular, comprehensive eye exams are so important. Regular eye exams can make sure that any noticeable or hidden signs of glaucoma are detected early on.
  • Protecting your eyes: blunt trauma or injuries that penetrate your eye can cause traumatic glaucoma.

What is the most common treatment for glaucoma?

The most common treatment for glaucoma is prescription eye drops. They work by lowering the pressure in your eye to prevent damage to the optic nerve. Despite not being a cure, eye drops can prevent glaucoma from getting worse.

Other treatments include laser surgery and an eye surgery called ‘trabeculectomy’.

Can glaucoma be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, early treatment can often stop or slow the progression of damage and vision loss.

How does glaucoma impact older people?

Losing your vision is frightening and debilitating at any age. However, older people are more at risk of partial or total sight loss. Vision loss can affect older people in several ways, including:

  • Independence: losing vision can severely restrict (if not remove) your loved one’s ability to live independently. In addition, it can stop them from engaging in enjoyable activities, such as reading or watching television.
  • Social isolation: being less able to walk outside, drive, or use public transport can lead to older people becoming socially isolated.
  • Depression: the anxiety associated with losing independence and the effects of social isolation can increase your loved one’s risk of developing depression. Additionally, these feelings can also manifest in other problematic or harmful ways.
  • Side-effects: typical glaucoma medications can cause side effects, including reduced vision, itching/burning sensation, fatigue, headaches, and drowsiness.

How to support your loved one with glaucoma

If your loved one is undergoing treatment for glaucoma, there are a few ways you can support them.

  • Encourage them to seek help: your loved one may be emotionally overwhelmed when they first get their glaucoma diagnosis and a new treatment plan. At this time it’s important to stay connected with them so they know you’re available to offer support when needed.
  • Listen: it’s important to listen when your loved one is sad, scared, or angry. A life-altering medical diagnosis such as this can significantly affect their mood. But a listening ear may be all they need to work out their emotions.
  • Help with prescriptions and treatment plans: your loved one may feel overwhelmed with new medicines and directions. So you could offer to help with medication and prescriptions until your loved one can independently follow all the instructions.

Other tips include:

  • Mark steps and slopes,
  • Improve lighting,
  • Remove clutter,
  • Use large print on important items,
  • Create a support team, that can include friends and family, to help with visits to the doctor.

How live-in care can support your loved one with glaucoma

If your elderly loved one has glaucoma, especially if they have lost some or all vision, they may benefit greatly from live-in care. That’s because a live-in carer can help your loved one in managing everyday tasks, keeping physically active, and having the highest possible quality of life.

Live-in care support for those living with glaucoma can include:

  • Help with bathing, dressing, and using the toilet,
  • Reading and accessing information,
  • Managing household tasks, including cooking,
  • Getting around the house along with other locations.

Mumby’s live-in care for glaucoma patients

At Mumby’s, we can escort your loved one to their eye exams and encourage them to follow treatment plans. If their vision gets worse, we can perform home safety checks and our live-in carers are on hand to offer extra support as required. We will put measures in place to ensure your loved one can remain as independent as possible.

Glaucoma can be a difficult disease to live with. We understand the challenges and how to help make life better. For more information on how Mumby’s can help, please contact us today.