Glaucoma occurs when a build-up of fluid creates pressure in the eye, which then damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for the transmission of information from your eyes to your brain, and damage associated with it can lead to severe vision loss, and in the worst case, blindness.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of preventable blindness in the U.S. affecting about 3 million people.1 A comprehensive eye exam includes testing for glaucoma, so be sure to see your eye care professional regularly.
Options for Glaucoma Patients
Prescription eye drops can decrease eye pressure by slowing the production of fluids within the eye or improving the drainage flow. Individual results may vary.
Glaucoma surgery improves the flow of fluids from the eye, relieving pressure on the optic nerve. Your doctor may use a highly focused laser beam, either to modify the existing drainage route or to create an alternate hole in the iris, depending on the type of glaucoma you have. Surgery can treat glaucoma, but it cannot reverse existing damage, so it is important to receive regular eye examinations to help avoid damage before it happens.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Glaucoma often develops with no symptoms, making it impossible for patients to detect until significant (and irreversible) damage has been done. For this reason, it is important to frequently be checked by an eye doctor for ocular hypertension (a condition with high pressure in the eye which can mean a person is at high risk for glaucoma).
In the case of acute closed angle glaucoma, symptoms will be sudden and severe, including:
- Blurred vision
- Severe eye pain
- Rainbow haloes
- Nausea and vomiting
What Causes Glaucoma?
There are several different types of glaucoma, stemming from different causes including:
Chronic open angle glaucoma: the most common form of the disease, chronic open angle glaucoma results from a pressure build-up in the eye, and causes severe vision loss without the warning of noticeable symptoms. Its exact cause is unknown, although experts believe that the eye's inability to drain fluid may be responsible for the high pressure in the eye, which leads to damage of the optic nerve and vision loss.
Acute closed angle glaucoma: unlike chronic open angle glaucoma, acute closed angle glaucoma arrives suddenly and painfully. It is extremely serious, and can cause permanent vision loss quickly. It happens when the area between the eye's iris and cornea is not able to drain fluid, causing high pressure in the eye.
Secondary Glaucoma: gets its name because it arrives as a result of something else, including previous medical conditions, injuries, irregularities, or medications.
Normal-tension glaucoma: a form of glaucoma where pressure in the eye is either normal or not very high, but the optic nerve is still damaged. This is rare, considering glaucoma is usually characterized by a high amount of intraocular pressure.
Photo courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.
1 January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma Research Foundation. http://www.glaucoma.org/news/glaucoma-awareness-month.php. September, 2016.