What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common, progressive disease that causes damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, and it typically develops gradually with few warning signs. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to irreversible vision loss.
Loss of vision from glaucoma is preventable if caught promptly and treated by your eye doctor, so early detection and prevention are critical. Regular eye exams are an important measure you can take to ensure the health of your eyes.
The eye produces clear fluid––aqueous humor––that circulates inside the front portion of the eye. In a healthy eye, excess aqueous humor is released through a drainage structure, which keeps the eye’s intraocular pressure (IOP) stable.
Glaucoma is caused when the surplus fluid is not draining effectively, which creates elevated eye pressure that can damage the optic nerve. Higher IOP leads to a higher likelihood of developing glaucoma and/or developing glaucoma at a faster rate.
Risk factors that could cause glaucoma include:
- Being of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Irish, Russian, and/or Scandinavian descent
- Family history
- High blood pressure
- Previous eye injury
- Prolonged steroid use.
Types of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a common disorder of the optic nerve. It can occur in one or both eyes, and it is divided into two basic types:
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease and accounts for 90% of all cases. Open-angle glaucoma can easily go undetected because the slow rise of intraocular pressure may be unnoticeable until late in the disease process. If left untreated by an eye doctor, open-angle glaucoma could eventually lead to blindness.
A far less common form of glaucoma is closed-angle glaucoma (also referred to as narrow-angle or angle-closure glaucoma). In closed-angle glaucoma, eye pressure is normal until the eye’s drainage apparatus becomes suddenly blocked causing intraocular pressure to abruptly rise to dangerous levels. This is called an acute attack, and immediate treatment is necessary to prevent blindness.
Glaucoma Signs and Symptoms
There are no warning signs or symptoms in the early stages of open-angle glaucoma. Regular eye examinations are important, as your eye doctor can detect and treat glaucoma before you lose your vision.
Closed-angle glaucoma (also referred to as narrow-angle or angle-closure glaucoma) typically does not have early symptoms. Signs of an angle-closure glaucoma “acute attack” include:
- Decreased or blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Redness and/or tenderness of the eye
- Seeing rainbows or halos
- Severe eye or brow pain
Glaucoma typically develops gradually with few warning signs, which is why 50% of people with glaucoma may not know they have the disease. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to irreversible vision loss, but loss of vision from glaucoma is preventable if caught promptly and treated by your eye doctor. Regular eye exams are an essential step you can take to ensure the health of your eyes.
During an exam at Southern Eye Group, your ophthalmologist or optometrist will test your vision and screen for glaucoma by measuring your intraocular pressure. They will check the drainage angle of your eye and evaluate any nerve damage. Additional diagnostic testing will be utilized, if necessary, to confirm if you have glaucoma or another eye disease/disorder.
Regular exams with your eye doctor are recommended for everyone, even those who have no eye-related problems, at the following intervals:
- Before age 40: every 2 to 4 years
- Ages 40–54: every 1 to 3 years
- Ages 55–64: every 1 to 2 years
- Ages 65+: every year.
While there is no cure for glaucoma—and vision cannot be restored once it is been lost—many medications and procedures exist to slow the progression of the disease or to stop it altogether.
Eyedrops or pills are the most common early treatment for glaucoma. These medications work by lowering eye pressure, either by slowing the production of aqueous humor fluid or by improving the drainage of fluid from the eye.
Surgery may be recommended for some patients with glaucoma. Glaucoma surgery serves to improve the flow of fluid out of the eye, resulting in lower eye pressure. After surgical intervention, medications may still be required to control intraocular pressure. Glaucoma surgery methods include:
- Laser procedures
- Incisional surgery, such as a trabeculectomy or goniotomy
The doctors at Southern Eye Group have either authored or reviewed and approved this content.