Glaucoma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

November 20th, 2021

Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve and negatively impact vision. Usually, this damage is caused by abnormally high pressure in your eye.

It’s one of the leading causes of blindness, especially in people over 60. However, it can occur at any age.

Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs. In fact, you may not even notice a change in vision until the condition is at an advanced stage.

This is why it’s important not only to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment but to also have regular eye exams to test for early signs of glaucoma.

Causes of Glaucoma

graphic indicating where blockages occur with glaucoma

Aqueous humor, a fluid inside of your eye, flows out of your eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, or the eye ends up producing too much fluid, the liquid builds up and causes glaucoma.

Experts still haven’t determined exactly what causes this blockage but it is strongly linked to age and can be inherited (passed from parents to children).

Glaucoma can also be caused by injuries to the eye, severe infections, and blocked blood vessels in the eye – although these causes are less common.

Glaucoma mostly affects adults over 40 but individuals of any age can develop it. Risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • 40 years of age or older
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Are farsighted or nearsighted
  • Have poor vision
  • Are diabetic
  • Take certain medications
  • Have thin corneas
  • Have high blood pressure or heart disease

Types of Glaucoma

There are two main types of glaucoma: Open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma, also known as wide-angle glaucoma, is the most common type and occurs when the drain structure in your eye looks fine but doesn’t let fluids flow through as it should.

Angle-closure glaucoma, also called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma, occurs when the drain space between your iris and cornea becomes too narrow and prevents your eyes from draining properly.

In both cases, fluid buildup creates pressure in the eye and can lead to vision problems.

There are less common types of glaucoma as well including secondary glaucoma (caused by another condition), normal-tension glaucoma (a form of open-angle glaucoma), and pigmentary glaucoma (fluid builds up in the iris).

Symptoms of Glaucoma

As we mentioned above, most of the time you won’t show signs of glaucoma until it has already advanced.

Also, the signs and symptoms of glaucoma can vary depending on the type you have and the stage of your condition.

Let’s look at the symptoms of glaucoma based on the type of glaucoma:

Open-Angle Glaucoma

If you have open-angle glaucoma, you’ll notice patchy blind spots in your peripheral (side) vision as well as your central vision. This frequently occurs in both eyes.

You will likely experience tunnel vision in the advanced stages.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

The symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include:

  • Eye pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye redness
  • Halos around lights

When to See a Doctor

Young female ophthalmologist examining a senior woman's eyes

Even though you may not know you have glaucoma until it’s already happening, it’s important to see an eye doctor right away. Untreated glaucoma will eventually lead to blindness.

Your first course of action should be to book an appointment with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) if you are experiencing symptoms of glaucoma. If your vision is severely affected or you are in a lot of pain, you should immediately go to the emergency room.

Glaucoma tests are quick and painless. The eye doctor will use drops to dilate (widen) your pupils so they can examine your eyes. 

They’ll look for signs of glaucoma in your optic nerve and may take photographs to track any changes between appointments. You’ll also receive a tonometry test to check your eye pressure.

Treatment of Glaucoma

Depending on the type of glaucoma you have and the severity of your condition, the eye doctor may prescribe eye drops, oral medications, laser surgery, or microsurgery to reduce the pressure in your eye.

  • Eye Drops: Eye drops can help lower the creation of fluid in your eye or increase the flow of fluids thus lowering eye pressure. There are some side effects to eye drops and they can cause potential drug interactions. Talk to your eye doctor about any medications you are taking.
  • Oral Medication: Oral medication is taken by mouth. You may be prescribed beta-blockers or carbonic anhydrase inhibitors to improve drainage or slow the creation of fluid.
  • Laser Surgery: If you have open-angle glaucoma, laser surgery can help increase the flow of fluid from your eye. In the case of angle-closure glaucoma, it can help break up fluid blockages.
  • Microsurgery: A procedure called a trabeculectomy may be used to create a new channel in which to drain fluid and ease eye pressure. This form of surgery may need to be repeated and could involve having a tube implanted to help with drainage.

Open-angle glaucoma is often treated with a combination of eye drops, laser surgery, and microsurgery. Your eye doctor will likely start with medications to see if they help before suggesting any form of surgery.

With angle-closure glaucoma, a laser procedure is usually required.

In the rarer cases of infant or congenital glaucoma (you’re born with it), treatment will likely involve surgery as well.

Regular Eye Exams Detect Glaucoma

When you lose your vision to glaucoma, it can’t be recovered. This is why it’s important to have regular eye exams that include measuring your eye pressure so that a diagnosis can be made early and glaucoma can be treated appropriately.

When glaucoma is recognized early, it’s possible to slow and even prevent vision loss. 

Otherwise, leaving it undiagnosed and untreated will eventually lead to permanent blindness.

Don’t take any chances when it comes to your ocular health. Booking an appointment with a reputable and dedicated clinic, such as The Eye Clinic, is quick and easy and could spell the difference between sight and blindness.

Ready to get started? Get in touch with The Eye Clinic today to book your appointment!

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