Glaucoma is an eye disease that may cause loss of vision. It occurs as a result of changes in the optic nerve. Pressure from a buildup of fluid in the eyeball is a major risk factor for glaucoma. Normally, this fluid nourishes your eye and keeps it healthy. After the fluid circulates, it empties through a drain in the front of your eye. In people who have glaucoma, the drain in the eye is blocked and the fluid can't run out of the eyeball. Instead, the fluid builds up and causes increased pressure in the eye.
The main symptom of glaucoma is vision loss, especially loss of peripheral vision. However, half of all people who experience loss of vision caused by glaucoma are not aware they have the disease. By the time they notice loss of vision, the eye damage is severe.
Rarely, an individual will have an acute (sudden or short-term) attack of glaucoma. In these cases, the eye becomes red and extremely painful. Nausea, vomiting and blurred vision may also occur.
Risk factors for glaucoma include:
You won't know you have glaucoma until you notice vision loss. Since glaucoma usually causes no symptoms other than vision loss, it is important that you have a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist regularly. An ophthalmologist is a doctor who is trained to provide care for the eyes, including the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma. Your ophthalmologist can measure your eye pressure, examine your optic nerve and evaluate your central and peripheral vision. Early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma can prevent damage to the eye's nerve cells and prevent severe vision loss.
People 18 to 60 years of age should have an eye exam every 2 years. After age 60, you should have an eye exam once a year.
The purpose of treatment is to lower the pressure in the eye to prevent further nerve damage and vision loss. Glaucoma is usually treated with medicated eyedrops. When eyedrops don't help relieve pressure, surgery or laser treatments are usually done. Medicines that can be taken orally (in pill form) can sometimes be prescribed as well, but are not commonly used.
The increased pressure destroys the nerve cells in the eye, which leads to vision loss. At first, you may have blind spots only in your peripheral (side) vision. If your glaucoma isn't treated, your central vision will also be affected. Vision loss caused by glaucoma is permanent.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff