Know the basics
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition that occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, which leads to vision loss and blindness. This is usually caused by high pressure in the eye. The optic nerve is a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the retina to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, the signal that tells your brain what you are seeing is disrupted. This gradually leads to vision loss.
There are a few different types of glaucoma. These may include open-angle glaucoma, angle closure glaucoma, normal tension glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma, congenital glaucoma and secondary glaucoma. The most common type is open-angle glaucoma.
How common is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common eye condition. It can occur at any age but is most commonly seen in adults over 60 years old. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness. You can decrease your chances by managing your risks factors. Please contact your doctor for more information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Your signs and symptoms depend on the type of glaucoma you have. Here are some signs and symptoms you may have:
- Open-angle glaucoma: at first there are usually no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, you may have patchy blind spots in your side or central vision.
- Angle-closure glaucoma: symptoms may include severe headache, eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, halos around lights and eye redness.
- Congenital glaucoma: This occurs in babies at birth. You may be able to notice signs within the first year after the baby is born. It is important to see the pediatrician regularly
- Secondary glaucoma: This type of glaucoma is caused by an underlying disease. The signs and symptoms may be similar to above.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of glaucoma. If glaucoma is left untreated, it can lead to vision loss and blindness. Those who are over 40 years old are recommended to get an eye exam to screen for any signs of glaucoma. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
Know the causes
What causes glaucoma?
The main cause of glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve. In most cases the optic nerve can be damaged by high pressure in the eye. This elevated eye pressure may be due to build-up of fluid in the eye. Normally, the fluid drains through the base of the eye called the trabecular meshwork. Fluid build-up can be caused by overproduction or when the fluid cannot drain properly.
The cause depends on the type of glaucoma. Here are some different causes:
- Open-angle glaucoma: This is most common type of glaucoma. In this type, the drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris is open. The cause is due to a partial blockage of the trabecular meshwork. This causes buildup of fluid and leads to increased eye pressure. This usually occurs gradually.
- Angle closure glaucoma: In this type, also known as closed-angle glaucoma, the blockage is caused by the drainage angle being closed or the iris bulging out and blocking the fluid drainage. This usually occurs gradually but may occur suddenly.
- Normal tension glaucoma: Eye pressure is not the cause. The optic nerve is usually damaged by the poor blood supply or hypersensitivity. The exact cause is unknown. The poor blood supply may be caused by buildup of fatty deposits, also known as atherosclerosis.
- Secondary glaucoma: In this type, glaucoma is caused by another health condition or drug induced. These conditions may include poorly controlled diabetes or high blood pressure. Some drugs that may cause glaucoma are corticosteroids.
- Congenital glaucoma: This is caused by a birth defect in children when they are born. The defect may disrupt the drainage and make the optic nerve more sensitive.
- Pigmentary glaucoma: This occurs when pigment granules from your iris builds-up and blocks the drainage in the trabecular meshwork.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for glaucoma?
Some common risk factors for glaucoma may include:
- Being over 60 years makes you more at risk for glaucoma.
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure).
- Having family history of glaucoma.
- Taking drugs that may cause glaucoma for a long period time. Such drugs include corticosteroid eye drops.
- Have other disease such as diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and sickle cell disease.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
To give you a proper diagnosis, your doctor may perform the following tests:
- Tonometry, test to measure the pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure)
- Visual field test that check the areas of vision loss.
- Testing the optic nerve damage.
- Pachymetry, test to measure the corneal thickness.
- Inspecting the drainage angle (gnioscopy).
How is glaucoma treated?
Treatment options will depend on the type of glaucoma. Treatment options may include:
- Eye drops: These drugs may include prostaglandins (latanoprost, bimatoprost), beta blockers (timolol, betaxolol), alpha adrenergic agonists (apraclonidine, brimonidine), carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (dorzolamide, brinzolamide) and miotic agents (pilocarpine). These drugs mainly work by reducing the pressure in the eye.
- Oral medication: Your doctor may prescribe an oral medication to take with your eye drops. This may include acetazolamide, an oral carbonic anhydrase inhibitor.
- Laser trabeculoplasty: This is a procedure that helps fluid drain easier. This is performed at the eye clinic or doctor’s office with a high intense beam of light. The laser will target the trabecular meshwork and help open the drainage.
- Trabeculectomy: This surgery treatment is usually suggested when all other options have failed. During surgery the doctor will make new openings to improve fluid drainage. This is usually performed in an operating room at the hospital. Usually surgery is performed on one eye at a time. To operate on the second eye, you usually may need to wait at least 4 to 6 weeks.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage glaucoma?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with glaucoma:
- Schedule exam routine and follow doctor’s instruction,
- Tell your doctor if you are taking any medication,
- Tell doctors if you have other diseases (asthma, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease) or allergies with glaucoma medication
- Always wear protective glasses if you play heavy sports to avoid damage to eyes
- Call your doctors if symptoms get worse.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 721
Porter, R. S., Kaplan, J. L., Homeier, B. P., & Albert, R. K. (2009). The Merck manual home health handbook. Whitehouse Station, NJ, Merck Research Laboratories. Page 1448
Glaucoma http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/glaucoma/basics/definition/con-20024042. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Glaucoma https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001620.htm. Accessed July 14, 2016.