The aim of World Glaucoma Week (6-12 March) is to raise awareness and understanding of the condition and the importance of early diagnosis.
Glaucoma comprises a number of different eye conditions that occur when the tubes that drain the fluid from the eye become slightly blocked and result in a build-up of pressure within the eye. Such a build-up of pressure can damage the optic nerve or lead to infections and diseases that, if not diagnosed and treated early, can result in partial or total loss of vision.
There are two main types of glaucoma: acute closed-angle glaucoma, which can develop suddenly following a traumatic injury; or chronic open-angle glaucoma which develops slowly over a period of years. Chronic open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma and usually occurs due to a build-up of pressure within the eye. It accounts for one in 10 cases of visual impairment in the UK and may also be hereditary.
One of the difficulties in diagnosing glaucoma is that symptoms during the early stages can be quite subtle, and a patient may not be aware on a day-to-day basis that their vision is deteriorating. The occurrence of any of the following symptoms should raise suspicion:
If a patient experiences any of these symptoms, they should visit their doctor straight away. They may then be referred to an ophthalmologist to test their eye pressure and receive appropriate treatment.
The symptoms of glaucoma, particularly at the outset, are subtle and treating physicians need to be vigilant to any small changes in a patient’s eyesight. Glaucoma should always be considered as a potential diagnosis as a missed or delayed diagnosis could result in irreparable damage to, or total loss of, the patient’s vision.
The objective of any treatment is to reduce pressure in the patient’s eye and minimise any damage. Treatment options include eye drops and, more invasively, laser surgery. Treatment cannot, however, reverse any damage already caused and a prompt diagnosis and treatment is, therefore, crucial.
Arran Macleod, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “Losing your eyesight is one of the most devastating experiences you can suffer. It will likely lead to a monumental shift in how you live your life and interact with others on a daily basis. If the damage was avoidable and occurs because of negligence in the management or treatment provided, it may be even harder to accept.
“Ophthalmologists and optometrists are under the same duty of care to their patients as any other medical practitioner and patients are entitled to expect that they will receive an acceptable standard treatment whenever they see their physician. If a patient experiences symptoms affecting their eye sight, which are suggestive of glaucoma, they are entitled to expect that their physician will manage them appropriately.
“Patients may have a claim against their treating physician in instances of a delay or complete failure in diagnosing glaucoma, which has caused the patient to experience pain and some damage to their vision, or loss of vision entirely.”