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What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease caused by elevated pressure in the eye. This added pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve - the part of your eye that’s responsible for transmitting visual information to the brain.

A comparison of normal vision vs glaucoma

Glaucoma is often referred to as “the silent thief of sight” as it often has no symptoms in its earliest stages - in fact, about 50% of those with glaucoma have no idea they have it! While vision loss from glaucoma is typically permanent, vision loss can be prevented if treated early enough in the disease.

Types of glaucoma include:

Open-angle glaucoma:

  • This is the most common form of glaucoma and typically follows a slow progression. As eye pressure builds up slowly, this form will usually show no symptoms early on. This accounts for over 80% of glaucoma cases.

Closed-angle glaucoma:

  • This form is less common and is typically caused by a damaged iris. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, symptoms may set in very quickly. When this occurs, it’s referred to as an “acute attack” and requires immediate medical treatment to prevent blindness.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

In the majority of cases, glaucoma is a silent disease. Many patients do not experience any symptoms until the later stages, during which they may experience:

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Hazy or blurred vision
  • Swelling in the cornea
  • Nausea

In cases of narrow-angle glaucoma, an “acute attack” may occur, and cause the following symptoms:

  • Sudden vision loss or blurry vision
  • Severe eye pain accompanied by nausea
  • Headache
  • Rainbow colored “halos” around lights

If experiencing an acute attack, one should immediately seek medical attention.

What are the risk factors for glaucoma?

Risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Being 60 years of age or older
  • Having high intraocular eye pressure
  • Being extremely nearsighted for farsighted
  • Having thin corneas
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Having experienced an eye injury
  • Having certain comorbidities, such as diabetes or high blood pressure

How is glaucoma treated?

Unfortunately, any vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, so early detection and treatment is key to preserving your vision. The main treatment for glaucoma is lowering eye pressure, which can be done in the form of prescription eye drops, laser treatments, surgery, or a combination of the above.
How can I reduce my risk of developing glaucoma?

The following steps may help lower your risk of developing glaucoma, as well as slow or stop any vision loss if the disease begins to progress:

  • Get a dilated annual eye exam: Your ophthalmologist or eye care provider can detect glaucoma in its earliest stages, before you begin to lose your vision. They can also identify risk factors early on, such as high eye pressure.
  • Get regular exercise: Moderate exercise may help to reduce eye pressure, especially if you have comorbid conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Wear eye protection: As glaucoma can be caused by severe eye injuries, taking steps to lower your chances of injury will also lower your glaucoma risk.
  • Know your family tree: If you have a family history of glaucoma, let your eyecare provider know - you may need eye exams more often.