What is Glaucoma?


Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve in one's eye. Getting worse over time, glaucoma is most often connected to a build up of pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is also frequently hereditary, meaning if people in your family suffer from it your chances of contracting it are firmly increased. To be sure, glaucoma is a word we have all heard but (most) know little about. We usually associate glaucoma with people that are aging, at least that is the stereotype. And while glaucoma is much more common in adults over the age of 40, children, young adults and even infants can get this debilitating disease. And what is most unnerving: the vast majority of people that get glaucoma have little or no symptoms or pain in the early stages. Only regular visits to your eye doctor can catch it before long-term visual loss happens.   portland-eye-doctor

While looking into glaucoma I came across an excellent, resource-strong article on WebMd.com. Borrowing from this article directly, I've included excerpts below touching on the who, what, how and so forth of this preventable malady. Read on to get informed and stay "eye healthy":  

[su_spoiler title="What Causes Glaucoma? "]It’s the result of high fluid pressure inside your eye. This happens when the liquid in the front part of the eye doesn't circulate the way it should.

Normally, the fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of your eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, the liquid builds up. That’s what causes glaucoma. The reason for the blockage is unknown, but doctors do know it can be inherited, meaning it’s passed from parents to children.

Less common causes include a blunt or chemical injury to your eye, severe eye infection, blocked blood vessels inside the eye, and inflammatory conditions. It’s rare, but sometimes eye surgery to correct another condition can bring it on. It usually affects both eyes, but it may be worse in one than the other. [/su_spoiler] [su_spoiler title="What are the Types of Glaucoma? "]There are two main kinds:

Open-angle glaucoma. It’s the most common type. Your doctor may also call it wide-angle glaucoma. The drain structure in your eye -- it’s called the trabecular meshwork -- looks normal, but fluid doesn’t flow out like it should.

Angle-closure glaucoma. It’s less common in the West than in Asia. You may also hear it called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma. Your eye doesn’t drain right because the angle between your iris and cornea is too narrow. Your iris is in the way. This can cause a sudden buildup of pressure in your eye. It’s also linked to farsightedness and cataracts, a clouding of the lens inside your eye.


[su_spoiler title="Who Gets Glaucoma? "]It mostly affects adults over 40, but young adults, children, and even infants can have it. African-Americans tend to get it more often, when they're younger, and with greater vision loss.

You’re more likely to get it if you:

  • Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent
  • Are over 40
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have poor vision
  • Have diabetes
  • Take certain steroid medications, like prednisone
  • Have had trauma to the eye or eyes
  • [/su_spoiler]

    [su_spoiler title="What are the Symptoms? "]Most people don’t have any. The first sign is often a loss of peripheral, or side, vision. That can go unnoticed until late in the disease. That’s why glaucoma is often called the "sneak thief of vision."

    Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should have a complete exam with an eye specialist every 1 to 2 years. Occasionally, pressure inside the eye can rise to severe levels. In these cases, you may have sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision, or the appearance of halos around lights.

    If you have any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical care:

  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Vision loss
  • Redness in the eye
  • Eye that looks hazy (particularly in infants)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Eye pain
  • Narrowed vision (tunnel vision)
  • [/su_spoiler]

    [su_spoiler title="How is it Diagnosed? "]Your eye doctor will use drops to open (he’ll call it dilate) your pupils. Then he’ll test your vision and examine your eyes. He’ll check your optic nerve, and if you have glaucoma, it will look a certain way. He may take photographs of the nerve to help him track your disease over time. He’ll do a test called tonometry to check your eye pressure. He’ll also do a visual field test, if necessary, to figure out if you've lost your side, or peripheral, vision. Glaucoma tests are painless and take very little time.[/su_spoiler]

    [su_spoiler title="How is Glaucoma Treated? "]Your doctor may use prescription eye drops, laser surgery, or microsurgery.

    Eye drops. These either reduce the formation of fluid in the eye or increase its outflow. Side effects may include allergies, redness, stinging, blurred vision, and irritated eyes. Some glaucoma drugs may affect your heart and lungs. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you’re taking or are allergic to.

    Laser surgery. This procedure can slightly increase the flow of the fluid from the eye for people with open-angle glaucoma. It can stop fluid blockage if you have angle-closure glaucoma. Procedures include:

  • Trabeculoplasty: Opens the drainage area
  • Iridotomy: Makes a tiny hole in the iris to let fluid flow more freely
  • Cyclophotocoagulation: Treats areas of the middle layer of your eye to reduce fluid production
  • Microsurgery. In an procedure called a trabeculectomy, the doctor creates a new channel to drain the fluid and ease eye pressure. Sometimes this form of glaucoma surgery fails and has to be redone. Your doctor might implant a tube to help drain fluid. Surgery can cause temporary or permanent vision loss, as well as bleeding or infection.

    Open-angle glaucoma is most often treated with various combinations of eye drops, laser trabeculoplasty, and microsurgery. Doctors in the U.S. tend to start with medications, but there’s evidence that early laser surgery or microsurgery could work better for some people.

    Infant or congenital glaucoma -- meaning you are born with it -- is primarily treated with surgery, because the cause of the problem is a very distorted drainage system.

    Talk to your eye doctor to find out which glaucoma treatment is right for you.[/su_spoiler]

    [su_spoiler title="Can You Prevent Glaucoma? "]No. But if you diagnose and treat it early, you can control the disease.[/su_spoiler]

    [su_spoiler title="What's the Outlook? "]At this time, lost vision can’t be restored. However, lowering eye pressure can help preserve the sight you have. Most people with glaucoma who follow their treatment plan and have regular eye exams don’t go blind.[/su_spoiler]  

    So now that you have a better understanding of glaucoma and how it not only affects those who are aging, but also young adults, children and even infants, be sure to get regular check-ups with your eye doctor (1x every 1-2 years). While glaucoma is not preventable, it can be stopped if detected early in the onset process.

    Header Image Courtesy: NPR.org and iStock