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What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the cable that connects the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old. But blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.

Glaucoma Symptoms

In the early stages of the disease, there are no symptoms. As glaucoma progresses, a person may notice problems with their side vision. Unfortunately, by the time any visual problems are noticed, a great deal of damage will have already occurred to the optic nerve. The side or peripheral vision will slowly develop blind spots which get enlarge as the disease progresses. Eventually central vision loss will occur and eventual blindness will ensue.

Who is at Risk from Glaucoma?

Glaucoma may affect anyone. However, some people have a higher than normal risk of getting glaucoma. This includes people who:

People with more than one of these risk factors have an even higher risk of glaucoma.

What Causes Glaucoma?

If the drainage passage inside the eye is mechanically blocked or isn’t functioning properly, the clear fluid inside the eye, the aqueous humor, builds up. That extra fluid increases pressure inside the eye, damaging the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the cable that connects the eye to the brain.

What are the Different Types of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is divided into two main categories based on the anatomy of the eye. They are open angle and closed angle glaucoma.

Primary open-angle glaucoma

This is the most common type of glaucoma. It happens gradually, where the eye does not drain fluid as well as it should (like a clogged drain). As a result, eye pressure builds and starts to damage the optic nerve. This type of glaucoma is painless and causes no vision changes at first. Most people with open-angle glaucoma do not notice any change in their vision until the damage is quite severe. This is why glaucoma is called the “silent thief of sight.” Having regular eye exams can help your ophthalmologist find this disease before you lose vision.
Some people can have optic nerves that are sensitive to normal eye pressure. This means they are at risk of getting glaucoma even when their eye pressure is not elevated. Regular eye exams are important to find early signs of damage to their optic nerve.

Angle-closure glaucoma (also called “closed-angle glaucoma” or “narrow-angle glaucoma”)

This type happens when someone’s iris is very close to the drainage angle in their eye. The iris can end up blocking the drainage angle. You can think of it like a piece of paper sliding over a sink drain. When the drainage angle gets completely blocked, eye pressure rises very quickly. This is called an acute attack. It is a true eye emergency, and you should call your ophthalmologist right away or you might go blind.
Here are the signs of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack:

Many people with angle-closure glaucoma develop it slowly. This is called chronic angle-closure glaucoma. There are no symptoms at first, so they don’t know they have it until the damage is severe or they have an attack.
Angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness if not treated right away.

Glaucoma suspects

Some people have no signs of damage from glaucoma but have higher than normal eye pressure (called ocular hypertension). These patients are considered “glaucoma suspects” and have a higher risk of eventually developing glaucoma. Some people are considered glaucoma suspects even if their eye pressure is normal. For instance, their ophthalmologist may notice something different about their optic nerve. Anyone who is considered a glaucoma suspect should be carefully monitored by their ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist can check for any changes over time and begin treatment if needed.