What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma refers to a group of diseases that can cause vision loss by damaging the optic nerve. It can occur in one or both eyes.
How does glaucoma develop?
Glaucoma may be caused in different ways:
- Open-angle glaucoma arises when pressure in the front of the eye is increased, due to poor drainage of fluid from this chamber. The increased eye pressure may harm the optic nerve. This is the most common type of glaucoma.
- Low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma develops without an increase in eye pressure.
- Angle-closure glaucoma causes a sudden rise in eye pressure and is a medical emergency. Seek emergency medical care if you experience severe eye pain and nausea, as well as eye redness and blurred vision.
- Congenital glaucoma occurs when an infant is born with a defect in the angle of the eye that impairs fluid drainage.
What causes glaucoma?
Glaucoma is most common in:
- People with poorly controlled high blood pressure and diabetes
- African Americans over age 40
- People over age 60, especially Mexican Americans
- Those with a family history of glaucoma
Glaucoma may also be associated with cataracts, certain eye tumors, and eye inflammation, and may develop after eye surgeries or serious eye injuries.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma often causes no symptoms (except for angle-closure glaucoma). That’s why seeing an eye care professional for periodic exams is so important. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is best and includes assessments of your vision, retina, optic nerve, eye pressure, and cornea thickness.
How is glaucoma treated?
There is no cure for glaucoma and no way to reverse vision loss once it has started. However, there are treatments to control eye pressure and save remaining vision.
- Medicines taken as eyedrops or pills can be used to lower eye pressure by reducing fluid production or promoting drainage.
- Laser trabeculoplasty is a laser surgery technique that helps fluid drain by “stretching” drainage holes in the eye when medication is not enough.
- Laser iridotomy. This is the preferred treatment for angle-closure glaucoma, in combination with medication. The ophthalmologist makes a tiny hole in the iris to promote the flow of fluid.
- Conventional trabeculoplasty. A small piece of tissue is removed to create a new channel for fluid to drain from the eye. It is only done when medical treatment and laser surgery are insufficient to control eye pressure. Conventional surgery is also the preferred treatment for congenital glaucoma.
If you have vision loss from glaucoma, there are low vision aids you can use to maximize the use of your remaining vision. Examples include handheld lenses, electronic reading machines, and closed circuit video magnification systems.