woman squinting at phone
woman squinting at phone


Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for the transmission of information from your eyes to your brain. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss and, in the worst case, blindness.

It is estimated that half of the people with glaucoma do not know they have it. Take steps now to reduce your risk of vision loss.

Anyone can get glaucoma, but some are at higher risk than others. These include people who:

  • Are 40 years of age and older
  • Have a family member with glaucoma
  • Are of African, Hispanic or Asian heritage
  • Have high eye pressure
  • Are farsighted (hyperopic) or nearsighted (myopic)
  • Have had an eye injury
  • Use long-term steroid medications
  • Have corneas that are thin in the center
  • Have thinning of the optic nerve
  • Have diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation or other health problems affecting the whole body

Glaucoma is a leading cause of preventable blindness in the U.S., affecting about 3 million people. A comprehensive and dilated eye exam includes testing for glaucoma, so be sure to see your eye doctor regularly.

See Also: Ocular Hypertension

Symptoms of Glaucoma

Glaucoma often develops with no symptoms, making it impossible for patients to detect until significant (and irreversible) damage has been done. As the disease progresses, side vision may begin to fail. For this reason, it is important to maintain frequent eye examinations to check for ocular hypertension (a condition with high pressure in the eye which can mean a person is at high risk for glaucoma).

Types of Glaucoma

There are several different types of glaucoma.

Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma, and it happens gradually. The eye fails to drain fluid as well as it should, eye pressure builds and optic nerve damage occurs. This type of glaucoma causes severe vision loss without the warning of noticeable symptoms as it is painless and causes no vision changes at first.

Angle-closure glaucoma (also called “closed-angle glaucoma” or “narrow-angle glaucoma”) occurs when a person’s iris is very close to the drainage angle in the eye—which can lead to the drainage angle being blocked. When the drainage angle gets completely blocked, eye pressure rises very quickly. This is called an acute attack and is a medical emergency.

Signs of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack:

  • Suddenly blurred vision
  • Severe eye pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights

Many people with angle-closure glaucoma develop it slowly. This is called chronic angle-closure glaucoma. There are no symptoms at first, so they don’t know they have it until the damage is severe or they have an attack.

Angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness if not treated right away.

Normal-tension glaucoma is a form of glaucoma where pressure in the eye is either normal or not very high, but the optic nerve is still damaged.

See Also: Infant Eye Conditions for information on primary congenital glaucoma

Treatments for Glaucoma

While there is no known cure for glaucoma, there are treatment options that can help decrease intraocular pressure by slowing the production of fluids within the eye or improving the drainage flow, delaying further damage to the optic nerve. The most common of these treatments include:

Early detection and treatment are the best ways to avoid vision loss as a result of glaucoma. If you’re at higher risk, you should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every one to two years.

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