Glaucoma 101: What Is It and Could You Have It?

Glaucoma 101: What Is It and Could You Have It?

Of all the cases of blindness in the United States, glaucoma accounts for 9 to 12% and is the leading cause of blindness in those Americans over the age of 60. Unfortunately, glaucoma may be difficult to detect without the assistance of an eye doctor. Therefore, it’s important to go for a routine eye exam every two years.

What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition in which fluid pressure builds up inside of the eye and causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve transfers images of the world to the brain, allowing you to see. Because of this, when the optic nerve is damaged it can cause blurred vision and blindness if left untreated.

There are two types of glaucoma: open-angle and angle-closure. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease and occurs when the trabecular meshwork, or the draining system, isn’t working properly and therefore causes fluid to build up against the optic nerve. Angle-closure glaucoma is rare and occurs when your cornea or iris is narrowed, making it difficult for the fluid of your eye to drain correctly.

What Causes Glaucoma?
The disease itself occurs when fluid, called aqueous humor, inside the eye fails to circulate properly although it’s unknown what causes this blockage to happen in the first place, at least for open-angle glaucoma. However, glaucoma may have a genetic connection and those with family histories of glaucoma are more likely to develop the condition later in life.

Other causes of glaucoma include injury to the eye including blunt trauma, eye infection, inflammation, or a blockage in the eye’s blood vessels.

What Are The Symptoms?
Aside from gradual loss of or blurred vision, there are rarely any early signs of glaucoma. When there are symptoms, it’s typically caused by an intense buildup of fluid which is considered a medical emergency. Symptoms such as this include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tunnel vision
  • Headache
  • Eye pain
  • Eye has a “hazy” appearance
  • Redness in the eye
  • Halos around lights
  • Vision loss

Is There Treatment?
If your eye doctor has determined you have glaucoma (typically after a tonometry test, which is painless), you may be prescribed with eye drops or recommended to undergo laser surgery or microsurgery. Prescribed eye drops can either help to reduce the formation of fluid in the eye, therefore reducing the potential of buildup, or can assist in the outflow of the fluid from the eye.

There are three types of laser surgery your doctor may recommend depending on the severity of the condition. These surgeries include:

  • Trabeculoplasty, which opens the area of drainage in the eye
  • Cyclophotocoagulation, which reduces fluid production in the eye via the treating the eye’s middle layer
  • Iridotomy, which assists in the flow of the eye fluid through the application of a small hole in the iris

Trabeculectomy is a type of microsurgery, which can help reduce the amount of pressure on the optic nerve. An eye surgeon creates a small pathway in the eye to help drain the fluid. However, this form of surgery is rare and is often only done in the case of emergency or if other treatments fail.

If you have glaucoma or believe you may have glaucoma, see your eye doctor immediately for treatment. Early treatment is the key to preventing blindness or other medical emergency.