What is glaucoma?

‘Glaucoma’ actually refers to a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. Peripheral vision is lost initially, but as the disease progresses, total blindness can result. There are two main forms of glaucoma: open and closed angle glaucoma.

Glaucoma is called the ‘silent thief of sight’ because damage occurs slowly and painlessly over a long period of time.

Unfortunately, it’s often missed until the disease is advanced – which is why it’s vital to have your eyes tested regularly. Your Westfund optometrist will examine your eyes for any signs of glaucoma.

Causes of glaucoma

Not all the causes of glaucoma are known. Fortunately, others are well recognised.

There is a small chamber in the eye called the anterior chamber - liquid flows in and out of it. However, if outflow of the fluid is reduced, increased eye pressure is often the result. Left untreated, this causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve. Raised intraocular pressure (IOP) is a known risk factor for glaucoma, but not all glaucoma is associated with high IOP.

Apart from heightened intraocular pressure, other risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Age (glaucoma risk increases significantly with each decade of life over 50)
  • Family history (risk is up to 10% if your parent has glaucoma, up to 50% if your sibling has glaucoma)
  • Certain eye conditions such as myopia (short-sightedness), thin corneas and some retinal diseases
  • Steroid use – prolonged use of corticosteroids (even higher risk if these are in eye drop form)
  • Certain illnesses and conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism.

It is important to realise that a significant proportion of Glaucoma patients have IOP well within the normal range. This is called normal-pressure glaucoma. There are also people who have IOP levels above normal, but who do not suffer from the disease. This is called ocular hyper-tension.

Treating glaucoma

While glaucoma cannot be completely cured, appropriate treatment can slow the disease down and halt progression. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of each case. In the first instance, you may be prescribed eye drops.

In addition, a laser procedure may also be performed. In some cases, surgery may be required.

Closed-angle glaucoma is treated as a medical emergency.  If you experience any sudden onset of eye pain and vision loss, contact your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.


Unfortunately, anything compromising the optic nerve that damages it will result in vision loss, and this cannot be reversed. That’s why the earlier you are diagnosed with glaucoma, the better your outlook will be.

So, it’s important to schedule regular eye health examinations from the age of 40. If someone in your family has had glaucoma or you’re in a risk category, it should be more frequently.

Want to know more?

Do you have concerns or questions about your own eye health? We're here to help - call 1300 937 838.