Frequently asked questions

We know there are a lot of questions to be asked about glaucoma.

We’ve gathered some of the most common ones we receive from Glaucoma NZ members and answered them here.

Have another question? Then contact us and we will try to answer it.

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Frequently asked questions about testing for glaucoma:

I am a 37 year old male who does not know a lot about his biological history. Do I need to be tested for glaucoma, how much is it likely to cost, and where would I go to get tested?

We recommend that everyone should have a glaucoma test at the age of 45 and every 5 years after that. Often, people with a known family history of glaucoma will go sooner. Considering you don’t know your family history, it would be wise to have an eye health check with an optometrist now. After an initial check, your optometrist can advise how often to get repeat checks. The cost of checks varies – it might be a good idea to ring around to get an idea of prices.

Why does Glaucoma NZ recommend eye examinations only every five years from age 45? I have read other recommendations suggesting every two years.

Glaucoma screening is a complex matter – it’s never a case of ‘one size fits all’. We think we’ve set a realistic and achievable target with the ‘45 plus 5 glaucoma eye examination’. If everyone had an eye examination every five years between 45 and 60, people at higher risk of glaucoma would be identified and monitored more closely and an earlier diagnosis of glaucoma would be possible.

Glaucoma NZ places emphasis on understanding and assessing the risk factors of glaucoma when you have an eye examination. At your first eye check, your eye health professional will be able to assess your level of risk – such as the state of the optic disc, the shape of the angle, and the level of intraocular pressure – and establish how often you need to be examined.

What is an ophthalmologist?

Sometimes also referred to as eye specialists or ophthalmic surgeons, ophthalmologists are specialist medical practitioners. It’s a serious profession, and takes a minimum of 14 years of training to become one. To train as an eye surgeon, a doctor becomes a registrar in a hospital and a trainee of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists for a period of five years. After passing exams, a New Zealand trainee will go abroad for a few years to gain further experience in overseas centres where the caseloads and expertise differ to New Zealand.

What is an optometrist?

Optometry is a university degree course of 5 years. During their studies, modern optometrists are taught how to diagnose and screen for common eye diseases, including glaucoma and diabetic eye disease. They prescribe and dispense glasses and contact lenses, and are often the first port of call for those with eye problems.

Frequently asked questions about glaucoma treatments:

My mother is sure she heard on talkback radio that there is a cure for glaucoma. Is this correct?

Unfortunately, at the moment there is no cure for glaucoma – damage to the optic nerve can’t be repaired. Glaucoma treatment is instead focused on preventing any further damage and sight loss. Your mother might have heard a discussion about advances in the treatment of another eye condition, like macular degeneration.

Why are eye drops used in glaucoma?

The answer is to help prevent the loss of vision from glaucoma. The exact cause of glaucoma is not known, but we know the age, family history and raised pressure in the eyes (intraocular pressure) are risk factors. Of these, only the eye pressure is modifiable, and lowering it slows the loss of peripheral, and then central, vision in glaucoma. Eye drops are the commonest and preferred way of achieving this.

Why do I have to use my eye drops permanently and continually?

In order to prevent visual loss, the pressure must be constantly controlled. The effect of each dose of drops lasts for only a limited time. If a drop is given four times a day, it is because the effect of the drop only lasts about 6 hours. If the drops are not continuously used the pressure will creep back up again

Do I have to get up at night to take my eye drops?

No. An undisturbed night is more important, but if prescribed for use three or more times daily, it is usually desirable to put them in last thing at night and as soon as you wake up in the morning.

Are my eye drops supposed to sting when I put them in?

All drops may cause some burning or stinging when instilled. Often, this effect is due not to the drug but to the antibacterial preservatives in the solution. It is rarely intolerable and can be used to advantage since it lets the patient know that the drop got into the eye. If you are experiencing a lot of discomfort you should report this to your eye specialist, as there may be different options for you.

If I have two lots of drops due at the same time, can I put them in together?

It is probably best to allow five to ten minutes between drops to avoid one drop washing out the previous one. Ask your eye specialist for specific advice about the drops you are taking.

Prof Helen Danesh Meyer answers frequently asked questions from our members

10 Basic facts about Glaucoma and the answer to frequently asked questions about eye drops and glaucoma.


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