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Glaucoma refers to a groups of disease that can affect the optic nerve, leading to loss of vision.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is sometimes called the “silent thief of sight,” because it often has no symptoms until the disease becomes very advanced. Once glaucoma has damaged your vision, it can never be regained. The optic nerve is made up of a large number of nerve fibers, and its job is to carry the images we see from our eyes to our brains. When fluid pressure in the inner eye increases, these optic nerve fibers can be damaged, causing blind spots to develop. Usually, people don’t notice these blinded areas until a large portion of the optic nerve has already become damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.

What causes Glaucoma?

The causes of glaucoma can be complex and is an area undergoing ongoing research. In general, the condition can be broadly classified into two types:

OPEN-ANGLE GLAUCOMA : This is the most common type of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma occurs when the drainage angle of the eye becomes less efficient with time, and pressure within the eye gradually increases. If this increased pressure results in optic nerve damage, it is known as chronic open-angle glaucoma. Over 90% of adult glaucoma patients have this type of glaucoma. SYMPTOMS Chronic open-angle glaucoma damages vision so gradually and painlessly that you may not be aware of trouble. Initially, blind spots may develop, but these can go unnoticed until the optic nerve is already badly damaged.

ANGLE-CLOSURE GLAUCOMA : Sometimes the drainage angle of the eye may become completely blocked. It’s as though a sheet of paper floating near a drain suddenly drops over the opening and blocks the flow out of the sink. In the eye, the iris (the part that makes your eyes blue or brown) may act like the sheet of paper closing off the drainage angle. When eye pressure builds up suddenly, it is called acute angle-closure glaucoma.


If you have any of these symptoms, call your eye care specialist immediately: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Severe eye pain
  • Headache
  • Rainbow halos around lights
  • Nausea and vomiting

Unless a doctor treats acute angle-closure glaucoma quickly, blindness can result due to high pressure. In some patients, the disease has the features of both chronic open-angle glaucoma acute angle-closure glaucoma. This may be called “chronic angle closure glaucoma” or “mixed mechanism glaucoma.

How is it treated?

There are three types of treatments for glaucoma: eye drops, laser surgery, and filtration surgery. Loss of vision from glaucoma is often preventable, however, if it is treated in the beginning stages. Early detection is key to preventing optic nerve damage and blindness.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

High pressure within the inner eye does not necessarily mean that you have glaucoma. Your glaucoma specialist will put together many different pieces of information to determine your risk for developing the disease. The most important risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Past injuries to the eyes
  • African ancestry

Your eye care specialist will weigh all of these factors before deciding whether you need treatment for glaucoma, or whether you should be monitored closely as a glaucoma suspect. This means your risk of developing glaucoma is higher than normal, and you need to have regular examinations to detect early signs of damage to the optic nerve.

How is glaucoma detected?

Regular eye examinations are the best way to detect and treat glaucoma. During a complete and painless examination, your eye doctor will:

  • Measure your intraocular pressure (tonometry)
  • Evaluate any optic nerve damage (ophthalmoscopy)
  • If necessary, your eye doctor may do additional testing including:
    • Inspect the drainage angle of your eye (gonioscopy)
    • Test the visual field of each eye (perimetry)

Some of these tests may not be necessary for every person. If you have glaucoma, you will need to repeat these tests on a regular basis to determine if glaucoma increasing over time.

Glaucoma prevention

Regular yearly eye exams may help prevent unnecessary vision loss to glaucoma. Treatment for glaucoma requires teamwork between you and your eye doctor. Your glaucoma specialist can prescribe treatment for the disease, but only you can make sure you take your glaucoma eye drops. Never stop taking or change your glaucoma medications without first consulting with your eye doctor. Frequent eye examinations and tests are critical to monitor your eyes for any changes. Remember, it is your vision, and you must do your part to maintain it!