Glaucoma is a condition associated with increased intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye) that can permanently damage the optic nerve, causing blindness. Glaucoma most often affects adults over age 40, but it can occur at any age, even in infants. Your risk of developing glaucoma is increased if you:
- Are over age 40
- Have a family history of glaucoma, particularly in your parents or grandparents
- Are of African-American, Hispanic, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Scandinavian or Inuit descent
- Suffer from poor vision
- Are diabetic
- Take certain steroid medications like prednisone
There are 4 Types of Glaucoma:
- Open-angle (chronic)
- Angle-closure (acute)
Open-Angle (Chronic) Glaucoma
Open-angle (chronic) glaucoma, the most common type, occurs when fluid does not drain normally from the front of the eye, causing a gradual increase in intraocular pressure over time. The increased pressure eventually damages the optic nerve, causing total, permanent blindness within a few years if left untreated.
The cause of open-angle glaucoma is unknown, but it tends to run in families — your risk is higher if you have a parent or grandparent with the condition, or if you are of African descent. There are no early symptoms or pain from the increased pressure, though some patients may experience a slow loss of peripheral (side) vision. For that reason, it’s important to see an eye doctor and have regular screenings– by the time vision loss occurs, the damage is already severe.
Treatment for this type of glaucoma often involves one or more kinds of eye drops that reduce intraocular pressure, or oral medication may also be used. Eye drops are sufficient for most patients, but if they aren’t sufficient, laser therapy or eye surgery may be indicated.
Angle-Closure (Acute) Glaucoma
Angle-closure (acute) glaucoma occurs when the drainage of eye fluid is blocked, causing a quick, painful and severe rise in intraocular pressure. This type of glaucoma, which can be triggered by dilating eye drops or other medications, is a medical emergency– blindness will occur within a few days if it is not treated. People who have had this form of glaucoma in one eye are at risk of developing it in their other eye. Symptoms of this type of glaucoma may include:
- sudden eye pain
- blurred vision / tunnel vision / vision loss
- seeing halos around lights
- eye redness
- hazy eye appearance (especially in infants)
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.
Treatment for this type of glaucoma typically involves eye drops, oral medications and/or intravenous medications to lower intraocular pressure. Some patients may need emergency surgery to open a new drainage pathway in the eye to relieve the pressure and prevent another occurrence.
Congenital glaucoma is caused by abnormal eye development. This form of glaucoma, seen in babies, is present at birth, and is treated with surgery under general anesthesia. The prognosis after surgery is generally good if the condition is caught early.
Secondary glaucoma is caused by another problem or condition like eye disease, systemic disease or trauma. It can also be caused by drugs like corticosteroids. Treatment involves treating the underlying problem in addition to treating the glaucoma, and the prognosis varies depending on how successful treatment is for the underlying condition.
A complete eye exam with dilated pupils, is needed to diagnose glaucoma. Other parts of your exam (which is painless) may include a tonometry (eye pressure) test, retinal exam, visual acuity test, visual field measurement and slit-lamp exam.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of glaucoma, please seek the advice of a medical professional right away. Glaucoma sufferers typically don’t know they have the condition until it is detected during a routine eye exam, and if you’re having symptoms, it may be serious. Regular glaucoma screening is essential.