A Concise Guide to Glaucoma

With World Glaucoma Week just wrapping up a little earlier this March, we wanted to keep the awareness-building going in our latest post here on the blog.

Glaucoma is sometimes called the “silent blinding disease” because early symptoms are often unnoticeable, and without comprehensive routine vision care, many individuals do not know they have it until after potentially irreversible vision damage has occurred.

There are also multiple types of glaucoma, some of which are related to other eyesight disorders and diseases (known as “secondary” glaucoma. “Primary” glaucoma develops unrelated to other conditions). These facts make it clear that glaucoma is still not a widely enough recognized disease even though the World Health Organization estimates that about 12% of all blindness globally is caused by glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

Actually a group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage to the optic nerve, glaucoma usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye, which increases pressure to harmful levels. This issue is often painless, so patients may not know it is occurring until optic nerve damage is severe enough to cause vision loss.

While some people are born with glaucoma or develop it in infancy or childhood, it mainly begins for the majority of patients after they’ve had their 40th birthday, and it is often considered a disease related to aging. In fact, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in patients over age 60, according to survey data from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Our library of glaucoma videos helps to illustrate what happens as glaucoma takes hold and also shows what you can do to reduce your chances of experiencing optic nerve damage. We invite you to watch these educational videos.

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What are the types of Glaucoma?

Two established types of glaucoma occur most commonly. They are known as Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma (POAG) and Angle-Closure Glaucoma (ACG).

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

This type of disease comes on gradually as a result of the eye not draining excess fluid, called aqueous humor, as well as it should (like a clogged drain). In a healthy eye, this fluid flows freely through the structure known as the drainage angle. With POAG, pressure builds due to the poor drainage, and the optic nerve becomes damaged, as we’ve already touched on.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Also known as “closed-angle glaucoma” or “narrow-angle glaucoma,” this type of disease occurs when your iris (the colored part of your eye) is too close to the drainage angle and blocks it. Some individuals’ eyes are naturally structured this way, and simply have a higher risk of developing this more acute form of glaucoma.

While POAG is the “silent” form of glaucoma, ACG shouts loudly in the way of sudden blurry vision and intense eye pain, among other symptoms (more on those in a moment). ACG is a true eye emergency, and you must see an eye care specialist immediately to prevent total vision loss, which can happen rapidly.

Who is most at risk for developing glaucoma?

Unfortunately, some individuals have more sensitive optic nerves that actually become damaged from normal eye pressure, so sometimes little to no drainage abnormality is needed to lead to glaucoma. (This type of disease is known as Normal Tension Glaucoma.) The only way to best understand your risk for developing the disease is to keep up with yearly eye exams.

Other risk factors include being over age 40 and having a family history of the disease. You may also have a higher risk if you:

  • are farsighted or nearsighted
  • are of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent
  • are on long-term steroid medications
  • suffer from diabetes (which can lead to other eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy), migraines, high blood pressure, or poor circulation
  • have had an eye injury in the past
  • have specific eye structural differences, like corneas that are thin at the center, thinning of the optic nerve, or the ACG-trigger in which the iris is located too close to the drainage angle.

The Symptoms of Glaucoma

There are virtually no symptoms associated with Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma in its earliest stages, though patients may begin to notice blind spots in their peripheral vision as the disease worsens.

If an acute “attack” occurs, Angle-Closure Glaucoma will cause a number of symptoms that are difficult to ignore. You should seek medical attention right away if you’re experiencing:

  • severe eye or forehead pain/sudden headache
  • eye redness
  • decreased or blurred vision
  • visual disturbances that look like rainbows or halos
  • nausea and vomiting

Disease progression if left untreated

The eventual result of POAG or even Normal Tension Glaucoma is irreversible blindness. With ACG, vision loss can occur very quickly if emergency eye care is not sought during an acute attack.

How to Treat Glaucoma

It is imperative to remember that damage caused by glaucoma is permanent and there is not a cure for the disease today. Your eye doctor can, however, offer you medication (typically eye drops) or surgery (traditional or laser) to halt or slow down vision loss. You’ll want to discuss your treatment options with your doctor to decide which best fits your lifestyle and addresses your individual experience with glaucoma.

How to Prevent Glaucoma

While glaucoma is unavoidable for some, early intervention can ensure that the disease does not cause vision loss. The only way to know whether you’re at risk for glaucoma or are experiencing the earliest stages of the disease is through routine eye care. Your eye doctor has advanced tools available to test for glaucoma.

Glaucoma testing

While testing your eye pressure is part of a routine examination and can tell your doctor whether yours may be dangerously high, there is more to a complete glaucoma screening. During glaucoma testing, your ophthalmologist will also:

  • inspect your eye’s drainage angle
  • examine your optic nerve for damage
  • take images or a computer measurement of your optic nerve
  • test your peripheral (side) vision
  • measure your cornea’s thickness

Campus Eye Center Can Help You Prevent or Manage Glaucoma

Our practice is recognized as one of the best resources right here in the Lancaster, PA area for helping patients live better by seeing better. If you are concerned about your risk for developing glaucoma or have already been diagnosed and are seeking an experienced, compassionate doctor to help you work through treatment options, please contact us at Campus Eye Center to make an appointment today.