It’s no wonder that glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in older adults: half of all people with the condition aren’t even aware they have it. That’s because glaucoma often causes no symptoms – until, eventually, vision loss occurs. Even then, the impairment happens so gradually that it may not be noticeable until the loss is severe.
Glaucoma is when your optic nerve becomes damaged, leading to gradual vision loss. The optic nerve at the back of your eye is critical to your ability to see, because it transmits information from your eyes to your brain, where that information is interpreted as images.
While there is no cure for glaucoma, and no way to restore vision loss that has already occurred, there are ways to identify the earliest signs of glaucoma as well as to stop it from progressing. Both involve regularly seeing your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
How Glaucoma Develops
The optic nerve damage of glaucoma usually occurs as the result of fluid buildup at the front of the eye, which increases pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure).
Your eyes are continually producing fluid. If that fluid doesn’t drain properly, it builds up, increasing your intraocular pressure and putting you at risk of developing glaucoma. Intraocular pressure pushes against the optic nerve, damaging it over time.
Glaucoma can occur in one or both eyes.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two main types of glaucoma:
This is by far the most common type of glaucoma. With this type, the fluid in the eye passes too slowly through the angle where the iris and cornea meet, which is wide and open, as it should be (hence the name “open angle”).
This type is rare, but it is considered a medical emergency, because permanent vision loss can occur in a matter of days. Symptoms include sudden and severe eye pain, blurry vision, and nausea. It occurs when the angle where the iris and cornea meet is narrowed or closed (hence the name “angle closure”), preventing fluid from draining.
You have an increased risk of developing glaucoma if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Family history of glaucoma
- African American
- High blood pressure
- 60 years old or older
If you have risk factors for glaucoma, your eye doctor may recommend you be screened for the condition on a more frequent basis.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Symptoms of glaucoma tend to develop very slowly – so slowly that you might not notice the changes as they occur. This is why regular appointments with your optometrist or ophthalmologist are very important. Our experts can detect glaucoma before you sense any symptoms.
One of the first things you may notice if you have glaucoma is a loss of your peripheral vision, especially on the side closest to your nose. You may also become sensitive to light or see rainbow-colored halos around sources of light.
You may have already been screened for glaucoma and not even know it. These tests are built into most routine eye exams, including one that requires your eyes be dilated. These in-office screenings are simple and painless.
The three most common glaucoma screenings include:
Dilating your eyes allows your doctor to visually assess the shape and color of your optic nerve.
This screening measures your intraocular pressure. It can be done with a puff of air or pressing a tiny device gently against the surface of your eye. What is considered normal intraocular pressure is different for everyone, so being tested for glaucoma on a regular basis will allow your eye doctor to more quickly identify any significant deviations from what is normal for you.
This assesses your peripheral vision, which is usually the first thing impacted by glaucoma.
There is no cure for glaucoma – but there are treatments that can stop its progression. The primary aim of glaucoma treatment is to reduce the pressure inside your eye, usually by encouraging proper drainage of fluid from the eye.
Medicine is usually the first line of treatment for glaucoma. Most often, these are delivered in the form of eyedrops that work by either helping fluid drain from the eye or lowering the amount of fluid your eye produces.
We offer quick and easy laser treatment to help fluid drain from your eye. Best of all, the treatment can be done in our ophthalmology office, so you don’t have to travel anywhere else.
When medications or laser treatments fail to help your condition, your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery to help drain excess fluid from your eye.