Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness that affects more than three million Americans. It is a family of more than 30 diseases that affects pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure), and damages the optic nerve. Often called the “sneak thief” of sight, people with most forms of glaucoma do not have symptoms until the optic nerve is already severely damaged. If diagnosed early, the disease can be controlled and permanent vision loss can be prevented.
What causes glaucoma? Glaucoma occurs when the normal pressure inside the eyes (intraocular pressure or IOP) increases because the aqueous humor fluid – which usually flows in and out of the eye – is unable to drain. Over time, this fluid buildup damages the optic nerve, the structure that sends visual signals from your eyes to your brain. Underlying reasons for this usually relate to the type of glaucoma you have.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
In most cases, glaucoma is asymptomatic (has no symptoms). By the time an individual experiences decreased vision, the disease is frequently in its latter stages. Since early warning signs of glaucoma are rare, it is important —- especially for those at risk —- to have regular medical eye examinations every one or two years.
Patients with chronic glaucoma may not be aware of any symptoms because the disease develops slowly and they rarely notice loss of peripheral vision. Patients with an acute form of glaucoma (acute angle closure) may develop severe symptoms because ocular pressure rises quickly and they may experience:
- Blurred vision, especially at night
- Halos or rainbows around lights
- Severe headaches or eye pain
Common Types of Glaucoma
Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma
Acute closure of the peripheral drainage angle, characterized by a sudden increase in intraocular pressure.
Primary Angle Closure Glaucoma
The iris obstructs the eye’s drainage angle in a slow, progressive fashion.
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
The drainage angle is open but does not allow fluid to drain adequately for unknown reasons.
Deposits of a fibrillary material that may contribute to the obstruction of the fluid drainage from the eye.
Pigment dislodged from the iris obstructs the eye’s drainage structures.
Angle Recession Glaucoma
Scar tissue from previous trauma obstructs the outflow of fluid.
Various disorders cause blood vessels to proliferate on the iris and in the eye’s drainage structures.
Normal Tension Glaucoma
Glaucoma that develops despite eye pressure in the normal range.
Childhood glaucoma, also referred to as congenital glaucoma, pediatric glaucoma or primary infantile glaucoma occurs in babies and young children.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Although glaucoma is most common in adults over the age of 40, susceptibility is not determined by age alone. A genetic predisposition of those with a family history of the disease and African-Americans, are at a particularly increased risk. Studies have shown individuals at greater risk for glaucoma may fit one or more of the following criteria:
- Are over the age of 60
- Have a family history of the disease, elevated intraocular pressure
- Are African-American over the age of 40
- Have diabetes or hypertension
- Are very nearsighted or farsighted
- Steroid Users
- Have had an eye injury
- Are Asian
- Are Hispanic over the age of 60
Expert Diagnosis for Early Detection
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s specialists continuously fight the severe consequences of not detecting the disease in its early stages — each year we treat nearly 40,000 patients who have advanced glaucoma. To achieve an accurate assessment, experienced ophthalmologists perform a comprehensive glaucoma screening that consists of non-invasive, pain-free procedures:
This test measures the pressure inside your eye.
This test checks for vision loss in your side or peripheral vision.
Spectral Domain OCT
Newer diagnostic studies using computer-imaging technology such as spectral domain optical coherence tomography (OCT), now permit precise measurements of the retinal nerve fiber layer that cannot be visualized by the unaided human eye. This test helps monitor and detect optic nerve loss over time.
Optic Disc Photography
Optic nerve photographs document the severity of damage to the nerve and are used to monitor changes over time.
Because corneal thickness can influence your eye pressure reading, this test measures the thickness of your cornea.
This exam looks at the drainage angle in your eye.
Certain prescription eye drops decrease intraocular pressure by reducing the amount of fluid your eye produces. Several different classes of glaucoma medications are available to provide pressure reduction including beta-blockers, prostaglandin analogues, alpha-adrenergic agonists, miotics, Rho kinase inhibitors, and oral and topical carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. These medications work by either reducing the rate at which fluid in the eye is produced or by increasing the outflow of fluid from the eye.
Like eye drops, oral prescription medications help reduce pressure inside your eye.
Using a laser beam, your ophthalmologist opens clogged channels inside the eye, releasing fluid build-up. Laser therapy is an outpatient procedure.
Filtering surgery to create a new passage for fluid drainage. Surgery is usually reserved for cases that cannot be controlled by medication and after appropriate laser treatment.
To enhance filtering surgery, your ophthalmologist may insert tiny drainage devices or “aqueous shunts” to keep the surgically created drainage opening from closing.
Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) has been developed in recent years to lower eye pressure and prevent progression of glaucoma. MIGS procedures are indicated in certain types of glaucoma and work by using microscopic-sized equipment and tiny incisions.
Additional Glaucoma Resources
- American Academy of Ophthalmology
- American Glaucoma Society
- National Eye Institute
- Research to Prevent Blindness
- The Glaucoma Foundation
- The Glaucoma Research Foundation
Why Choose Bascom Palmer Eye Institute?
University-Based Specialists. We not only diagnose and treat glaucoma, our physicians and scientists actively develop advanced technologies to diagnose the disease and perform research on the molecular level. Our patients have opportunities to participate in clinical trial studies of emerging treatments.
Tomorrow’s Treatments Today. You have access to sophisticated technologies and doctors who keep you informed of the latest treatment breakthroughs.
Child-Specific Care. If your infant or child has this disease, Bascom Palmer is the place to be. In 2016, we opened the Samuel & Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center, the world’s first center dedicated to infants and children with this serious condition.
Patient-Centered Care and Support. This chronic disease requires ongoing medical care and management. In the process of caring for you, our eye care professionals get to know you as a person, not just a patient. They provide the expertise, education and support you need to manage your condition.