New Test Could Spot Glaucoma A Decade Before Symptoms Appear

A new test could spot glaucoma before any loss of sight is suffered.

Glaucoma has very few symptoms and can be difficult to spot. It is usually picked up during routine eye tests.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) told the BBC that “It might be possible to treat the main cause of permanent blindness before people notice any loss of vision.” The eye exam could spot glaucoma a decade before symptoms appear.

The new test involves injecting a fluorescent dye into the persons bloodstream – thankfully, no needles to the eye.

Images of the eye are then taken and dying retinal nerve cells will show as white spots.

(Credit: UCL/Western Eye Hospital)  

Glaucoma is an eye condition that develops slowly over many years. It is responsible for about ten in 100 people being registered blind in the UK. The optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, becomes damaged and eventually leads to loss of sight. It is a common condition that can affect people of all ages however it is most common in adults in their 70s and 80s. 

The test still needs to be trialled on a larger scale as only 16 people have undertaken the exam so far. Existing treatment can only control or slow glaucoma, it cannot reverse the damage already done and there is not a cure. Although the new test still requires a lot of research it could help spot the disease before any major deterioration occurs and could thus save the sight of thousands of people. 

The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain. It was funded by the Wellcome Trust and carried out by researchers from UCL and the Western Eye Hospital. 

Professor Francesca Cordeiro is part of UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology and led the pioneering research. She told the BBC: “Detecting glaucoma early is vital as symptoms are not always obvious. Although detection has been improving, most patients have lost a third of vision by the time they are diagnosed.”

She added: “Now, for the first time, we have been able to show individual cell death and detect the earliest signs of glaucoma. We are possibly talking five to ten years before it would normally be identified. While we cannot cure the disease, our test means treatment can start before symptoms begin. In the future, the test could also be used to diagnose other neurodegenerative diseases.” 

The NHS recommends everyone have a routine eye test at least every two years. Some types of glaucoma are hereditary. If you know a close relative has glaucoma you should mention it to your optician so that they can carry out more thorough checks. More frequent eye tests are also suggested for those with a family history of glaucoma. 

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