Healthy Vision

Vision with Glaucoma

Slide bar to see the progression of glaucoma


What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease typified by optic nerve damage that produces a characteristic peripheral vision loss and is usually associated with higher than “normal” intraocular pressure. Glaucoma is often referred to as a “silent thief of sight”. It is estimated that the disease affects over 4 million Americans with only half of affected people knowing that they have the disease.

The disease is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. However, if caught early, the disease can be effectively treated. It is estimated that glaucoma affects one in every 50 adults. Although glaucoma can occur at any age, the risk of developing glaucoma increases dramatically after age 35.

Glaucoma is actually a series of diseases that damage the optic nerve. Damage to the optic nerve and retina causes blind spots in the field of vision. Glaucoma is usually caused by an increase in the fluid pressure in the eye, either because of overproduction of fluid or from blockage in the drainage system of the eye. The higher pressure inside the eye causes damage to the optic nerve, resulting in permanent vision loss.

The early symptoms of chronic open-angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma, are often unnoticed because there is no discomfort or pain. Most people do not detect a change in their vision until there has actually been a significant loss of vision. Later, central vision becomes affected, with mild headaches and difficulty with night vision. If left untreated, total blindness will result. However, the patient with acute closed-angle glaucoma may experience more noticeable symptoms including blurred vision, severe pain, nausea, and halos around lights.

In most cases, glaucoma is detected in a routine eye examination. Special instruments are used to check the fluid pressure in the eye, and a magnifying lens is used to examine the drainage channels for proper fluid outflow. With early detection and treatment, glaucoma can almost always be controlled and vision preserved. Sadly, glaucoma cannot be cured and once vision is lost it cannot be restored. Remember, vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, but can usually be prevented with early detection and treatment. Regular eye exams are important for people over 35, or those in other high risk groups.

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Risk Factors For Glaucoma

The following are risk factors as outlined by the Mayo Clinic

  • Elevated Internal Eye Pressure (Intraocular Pressure). If your intraocular pressure is higher than normal, you’re at increased risk of developing glaucoma, though not everyone with elevated intraocular pressure develops the disease.
  • Age. Everyone older than 60 is at increased risk of glaucoma. For certain population groups such as African-Americans, the risk is much higher than expected. African-Americans should begin to have their eye pressure monitored before age 30.
  • Ethnic Background. African-Americans are six to eight times more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasians, and are much more likely to experience permanent blindness as a result. Hispanic-Americans also face an increased risk. Asian-Americans are at slightly higher risk of angle-closure glaucoma, and Japanese-Americans are at a greater risk of developing low-tension glaucoma. The reasons for these differences in elevated risk aren’t clear.
  • Family History of Glaucoma. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you have a much greater risk of developing it. Glaucoma may have a genetic link, meaning there’s a defect in one or more genes, causing certain individuals to be unusually susceptible to the disease. A form of juvenile open-angle glaucoma has been clearly linked to genetic abnormalities.
  • Medical Conditions. Diabetes increases your risk of developing glaucoma. A history of high blood pressure or heart disease also can increase your risk, as can hypothyroidism.
  • Other Eye Conditions. Severe eye injuries can result in increased eye pressure. Injury can also dislocate the lens, closing the drainage angle. Other risk factors include retinal detachment, eye tumors and eye inflammations, such as chronic uveitis and iritis. Certain types of eye surgery also may trigger secondary glaucoma.
  • Nearsightedness. Nearsightedness (meaning objects in the distance look fuzzy without glasses or contacts) increases the risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Prolonged Corticosteroid Use. Using corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time appears to put you at risk of getting secondary glaucoma. This is especially true if you use corticosteroid eye drops.