Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that can lead to progressive and irreversible vision loss. With this condition, the optic nerve, which carries visual messages from your brain to your eyes, is damaged by increased pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma is usually hereditary. And while it can occur at any age, it is most common in people over the age of 60.
Glaucoma is sometimes referred to as the "silent thief of sight." It slowly and painlessly causes damage, and symptoms don’t show until the disease has progressed. Regular eye exams are especially important in diagnosing and treating glaucoma in its early stages. With early recognition, vision loss can be slowed or prevented.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Your eyes constantly produce a fluid called aqueous humor. Normally, this fluid flows in and out of your eye at a balanced rate to keep pressure within the eye stable. The fluid drains out through a mesh-like channel called the trabecular meshwork. If the fluid is overproduced or the trabecular meshwork is blocked, the fluid builds up and pressure within the eye rises. Increased pressure can damage the optic nerve and result in glaucoma.
Glaucoma tends to run in families, but in some cases, it can be caused by:
- Severe eye infection
- Chemical injury to the eye
- Inflammatory conditions
- Blocked blood vessels in the eye
- Certain medications
Risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Family history of glaucoma
- Age greater than 60
- High blood pressure and diabetes
- African, Asian, or Hispanic heritage
- Nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Eye injury
- High internal eye pressure
- Thinning of the optic nerve
- Corneas that are thin in the center
- Long-term use of steroid medication
Types of Glaucoma
Open-Angle Glaucoma: Also known as wide-angle glaucoma, this type occurs when the trabecular meshwork is partially blocked and the fluid doesn’t drain as it should. It happens so slowly and causes no vision changes at first.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma: This type happens when the iris bulges forward to the point of narrowing or blocking the drainage angle between your iris and cornea. This can cause a sudden buildup of eye pressure. Angle-closure glaucoma is a true eye emergency and you should visit an eye doctor right away.
Normal-Tension Glaucoma: This is when your optic nerve becomes damaged or you develop blind spots even though your eye pressure is within normal range.
Secondary Glaucoma: This type of glaucoma occurs when another condition, such as diabetes or cataracts, causes added pressure in your eye.
Pigmentary Glaucoma: With this type, pigmented granules from your iris (the colored part of your eye) build up in the drainage channels, causing a partial or complete blockage.
Congenital/Childhood Glaucoma: This is a rare type that occurs in young children due to an abnormality of the eye or an underlying medical condition.
Glaucoma Warning Signs
Signs and symptoms can be different depending on the type and stage of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma has no early symptoms. If symptoms do develop, it’s usually in an advanced stage of the disease. The main signs include:
- Tunnel vision
- Patchy blind spots in your side or central vision
Symptoms of acute angle-closure occur faster, and damage can happen quickly. Get medical care right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Eye pain
- An eye that looks hazy
- Halos around lights
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Vision loss
Signs and symptoms of congenital or childhood glaucoma include:
- Sensitivity to light
- Eyelid spasms
- Habitual squinting or rubbing of the eyes
- Clouding of the transparent cornea
Glaucoma Diagnosis and Treatment
A comprehensive eye exam is the only sure way to find glaucoma. Your ophthalmologist will examine your optic nerve, measure eye pressure, measure the thickness of your cornea, and inspect your eye’s drainage angle. Your eye doctor may also order special imaging tests of your optic nerve if they suspect glaucoma.
Treatment may include one or more prescription eye drops, oral medication, laser surgery to lower pressure in your eye, or drainage surgery to create a “bypass” to improve the drainage of fluid.
Schedule an Appointment Today
While there isn’t a cure for glaucoma, early detection and treatment may help stop further damage and prevent vision loss. If you are due for an eye exam, are at high risk of glaucoma, or are experiencing problems with your vision, contact Pomerance Eye Center to schedule an appointment. We offer comprehensive eye exams and high-quality vision care in a personalized and compassionate setting.