What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, often resulting in vision loss and possibly blindness. Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness and visual impairment, can affect patients of all ages but is more common in older adults. Glaucoma is the number one preventable cause of blindness in the world. Many people affected with glaucoma do not experience any symptoms and may not be aware that they have the disease until they have lost a significant amount of vision. With early detection and treatment, however, eyes can be protected against the serious loss of vision or blindness. Catching glaucoma at an early, treatable stage is one important reason to have thorough eye examinations regularly.

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What are the risk factors of glaucoma?

There are several factors that increase the risk of developing glaucoma, including:

  • Being over the age of 60
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Having elevated intraocular pressure
  • Having a history of a major eye injury or trauma
  • Having certain medical conditions, like diabetes
  • Taking certain medications, such as corticosteroids for prolonged periods

Patients with risk factors for the disorder should be especially vigilant about having regular eye examinations.

What causes glaucoma?

Certain diseases or conditions can contribute to the development of glaucoma. These include:

  • Increased pressure within the eye
  • Severe eye infection
  • Injury to the eye
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Inflammatory conditions of the eye

Glaucoma is considered primary if its origin is unknown and secondary if it results from another medical condition.

What are the different types of glaucoma?

There are several types of glaucoma. The two most common types are Primary Open Angle Glaucoma and Angle Closure Glaucoma. The most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma. Narrow-angle glaucoma can lead to angle-closure which can acutely increase the pressure in the eye causing damage to the optic nerve. Childhood glaucoma may start in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.  Other types of glaucoma, which occur much more rarely, include:

  • Low Tension Glaucoma
  • Congenital Glaucoma
  • Secondary Glaucoma
  • Pigmentary Glaucoma
  • Pseudoexfoliation Glaucoma

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

It is important to remember that patients with early-stage glaucoma are most often asymptomatic. When symptoms occur, they vary depending on the type of glaucoma and can occur in one eye or both eyes.

There are usually no warning signs or symptoms of Open-Angle Glaucoma. Some symptoms of open-angle glaucoma may include:

  • Gradual loss of peripheral vision
  • Tunnel vision (at advanced stages)

The symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma due to a sudden increase in intraocular pressure from the closure of drainage canals may include:

  • Eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Red eyes
  • Headache

How is glaucoma diagnosed?

The diagnosis of glaucoma is made after a comprehensive medical examination of the eye and a review of the patient's medical history. Tests are conducted to confirm the diagnosis. Testing may include some of the following:

  • Eye pressure measurement
  • Picture of optic nerve and measurement
  • Dilated eye examination
  • Visual field test (perimetry)
  • Retinal evaluation
  • Measuring corneal thickness
  • Inspecting the drainage angle
  • Visual acuity test

Once glaucoma has been diagnosed, treatment should begin as soon as possible to help minimize the risk of permanent vision loss.

How is glaucoma treated?

There is no cure for glaucoma, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing further damage. Some of the treatment methods for glaucoma are as follows:

  • Eyedrops
  • Oral Medications
  • Surgery

Depending on your situation, your treatment could involve a combination of methods. Your doctor will determine the right treatment for you during your evaluation.

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