What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a health problem where
the fluid inside the eyes slowly builds up and doesn’t drain correctly. This causes an
increase in eye pressure that can ultimately damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve is
a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the retina with the brain. This damage leads to
loss of eyesight.
There are many different types of glaucoma:
What causes glaucoma?
Experts don't know what causes glaucoma. Even people with normal
fluid pressure inside the eyes can lose their eyesight from glaucoma.
Who is at risk for glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma. But
some people are at higher risk than others. The risk factors for glaucoma are:
Race. Glaucoma is the leading cause
of blindness for African Americans.
Age. People age 60 and older are more
at risk for developing glaucoma.
Family history. People with a family history of glaucoma are more likely to develop the disease.
High fluid pressure inside the eyes. People with a high fluid
pressure inside the eyes are at an increased risk.
Anyone in these risk groups should
get an eye exam where the pupils are widened (dilated) at least every 2 years.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Most people who have glaucoma don't
notice any symptoms until they start to lose some of their eyesight. As optic nerve
fibers are damaged by glaucoma, small blind spots may begin to develop. They often occur
in a person's side vision (peripheral vision). Many people don't notice the blind spots
until major optic nerve damage has already happened. If the entire nerve is destroyed,
the person becomes blind.
One type of glaucoma, called acute
angle-closure glaucoma, does produce noticeable symptoms. This is because there is a
quick buildup of pressure in the eye. Symptoms may be a bit different for each person.
Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of acute angle-closure
glaucoma may seem like other eye problems. This type is considered a medical emergency.
Get medical care right away if you notice symptoms in order to prevent blindness.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
To diagnose glaucoma, your
healthcare provider will take your complete health history and examine your eyes. You
may also have the following tests:
Visual acuity test. This common eye
chart test measures how well you can see at different distances.
Pupil dilation. The pupil is widened
with eye drops to allow a close-up exam of the retina.
Visual field. This test measures a person’s side or peripheral vision. Lost peripheral vision may mean a person has glaucoma.
Tonometry. This standard test checks
the fluid pressure inside the eye.
How is glaucoma treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It
will also depend on how severe the condition is.
The symptoms of glaucoma sometimes
seem like other conditions or health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a
Glaucoma can’t be cured. But early
treatment can often control it. Treatment may include:
Medicines. Some medicines cause the
eye to make less fluid. Others lower pressure by helping fluid drain from the
Surgery. The purpose of surgery is to
create a new opening for fluid to leave the eye.
Laser surgery. There are several
types of laser surgeries used to treat glaucoma.
Drainage tube. For this surgery, a
flexible plastic tube (shunt) is placed in the eye to help drain fluid.
In some cases, a single surgery
isn’t enough to slow down the progress the glaucoma. In those cases, repeat surgery or
continued treatment with medicines may be needed.
What are possible complications of glaucoma?
Without treatment, glaucoma can cause lifelong (permanent)
Living with glaucoma
To help prevent your glaucoma from getting worse, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s advice. If you have already lost some of your eyesight, ask your healthcare provider for information on services for people with low vision. There are devices that may help you with your everyday tasks.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
Key points about glaucoma
Glaucoma is a health problem where the
fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly builds up and doesn’t drain correctly.
Even people with normal fluid pressure
inside the eyes can lose their eyesight from glaucoma.
Most people don’t notice any symptoms
until they start to lose some of their eyesight.
It can’t be cured. But early treatment
can often control it.
Treatment may include medicines or
Without treatment, glaucoma can cause
lifelong (permanent) vision loss.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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