What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of conditions affecting vision and is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. However, early detection and treatment can help to preserve one’s eyesight. Glaucoma results in damage to the optic nerve, causing a decline in vision. The damage is typically, but not always, due to increased pressure from a build-up of fluid in the front part of the eye. This increased pressure is called intraocular pressure. The optic nerve works by receiving light-generated impulses from the retina. It then transmits the impulses to the brain in order to recognize the signals as vision. The damage to the optic nerve that is caused by glaucoma is usually progressive and starts out as a mild loss of peripheral vision. 
The condition is often inherited and tends to be more common in older adults, but can occur at any age. In some cases, there are no symptoms/warning signs due to the damage being extremely gradual. This can often lead to the disease not being detected until extreme vision loss occurs. It is important to receive regular checkups with an eye doctor, especially if there is a family history of glaucoma or if you are over the age of 40. 
The types of glaucoma include:
  • Primary open angle glaucoma: This type is the most common. It develops gradually and occurs because the eye is not draining fluid as well as it could. This causes increased intraocular pressure. This type causes no pain and the vision changes have a slow onset. 
  • Angle closure glaucoma (aka narrow angle glaucoma): This type is a result of someone having their iris very close to the drainage angle in their eye. The iris may block the drainage angle resulting in a rapid increase in intraocular pressure. When there is complete blockage, this is a medical emergency that can result in complete blindness. 
  • Normal tension glaucoma: This type is less common and occurs even though intraocular pressure is within normal range. The exact cause is unknown. 
Risk factors
  • Having high intraocular pressure
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Ethnicity (people who are black or Hispanic are at higher risk)
  • Being over the age of 60
  • Certain eye conditions such as nearsightedness 
  • Certain types of eye surgery
  • History of eye injury
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Being on corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long period of time
  • Early estrogen deficiency before age 43
When diagnosing glaucoma, a medical history and physical exam will likely be done. A comprehensive eye exam will also be completed. 
Some tests that may be used to diagnose glaucoma include:
  • Tonometry to measure intraocular pressure
  • Pachymetry to measure corneal thickness
  • Gonioscopy to inspect the eye’s drainage angle
  • Visual field test to check for areas of vision loss
  • Visual acuity test to measure how well one sees at different distances
  • Dilated eye exam involves placing drops in one’s eyes to dilate the pupils, a doctor will then use a magnifying lens to examine the retina and the optic nerve to look for damage. 
There is no cure for glaucoma, and once vision loss occurs it cannot be corrected. Early detection, treatment, and frequent checkups can help to slow/prevent vision loss/damage due to glaucoma. The goal of treatment is to decrease intraocular pressure. 
Some potential treatments for glaucoma include:
  • Prostaglandins 
  • Beta blockers
  • Alpha adrenergic agonists 
  • Miotic or cholinergic agents
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors 
  • Laser therapy
  • Filtering surgery
  • Drainage tubes
  • Electrocautery 
  • Laser peripheral iridotomy 
  • In the U.S., approximately 3 million people have glaucoma
  • Glaucoma is the 2nd leading cause of blindness in the world
  • Approximately 6 million people are blind in both eyes due to glaucoma
  • Up to 1/2 of individuals with glaucoma may not know they have the disease
  • Even with treatment, approximately 15% of people with glaucoma will go blind in at least one eye within 20 years of diagnosis 
about glaucoma

  • "Glaucoma." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Sep. 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2017.
  • “Facts About Glaucoma.” The National Institutes of Health. National Eye Institute (NEI), n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2017.
  • “What Is Glaucoma?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 01 Mar. 2017. Web. 09 Oct. 2017. 
  • “What Is Glaucoma?” WebMD, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2017.
  • “Glaucoma.” MedicineNet.com, 20 Oct. 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2017. 



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