Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. It usually occurs when the pressure inside the eye rises, damaging the optic nerve and causing gradual but steady vision loss. In some patients, optic nerve damage indicative of glaucoma can occur even at normal eye pressures.
There are two main types of glaucoma, open-angle and angle-closure. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma and is characterized by a reduced capacity of the eye to properly drain the intraocular fluid (aqueous humor). Angle-closure glaucoma involves a sudden buildup of pressure in the eye and poor drainage because the angle between the iris and the cornea is blocked or is too narrow.
The condition often develops over many years without causing pain or other noticeable symptoms – so you may not experience noticeable vision loss until the disease has progressed significantly. Unfortunately, vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible.
Sometimes symptoms do occur, particularly in acute narrow angle glaucoma. They may include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Halo effects around lights
- Painful or reddened eyes
People at high risk include those who are over the age of 40, diabetic, near-sighted, African-American, or who have a family history of glaucoma.
To detect glaucoma, your physician will perform a series of tests including visual acuity testing, visual field testing, intraocular pressure measurements, examination of the anatomy of the eyes as well is imaging and ocular photography. Regular eye exams will be scheduled to monitor the changes in your eyesight and to determine whether you may develop glaucoma.
Once diagnosed, glaucoma can be controlled and further vision loss can be prevented. The mainstays of treatment are medications (usually eye drops) and in office laser procedures. These treatments are safe and effective and side effects of medications taken for glaucoma are generally mild and cease upon discontinuation of the drops. 85-90% of glaucoma patients respond to drops and/or laser. For the patients that don’t respond surgery is the next option.