Glaucoma is a general name for a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve of the eye. Usually associated with gradual (and sometimes sudden) increases in pressure within the eyeball itself, glaucoma can result in partial or total blindness over time. The damage caused by glaucoma is irreversible, and it is currently the second-leading cause of blindness in Americans over age 40 in the United States.
While anyone can develop glaucoma, the disease is most common in people over age 40. Glaucoma is five times more likely to affect African Americans than Caucasians, and roughly four times more likely to cause blindness in that population. In addition, people with a family history of glaucoma stand at a higher risk to develop the disease, and anyone over age 60, particularly Mexican Americans, faces an increased risk of glaucoma.
Signs & Symptoms of Glaucoma
There are often no symptoms of glaucoma; therefore, regular eye exams are crucial to discovering the problem before it leads to vision loss. The vision loss can usually be prevented with early detection and treatment, but the optic nerve cannot be fixed once the damage has occurred.
Occasionally there will be a headache, eye pain or haloes around lights if there is a sudden increase in pressure or very high pressure, but this is typically rare. Sometimes there can also be a sudden onset of blurred vision.
Types of Glaucoma
Open Angle Glaucoma
This is when the drainage system of the eye is not blocked, but there is still a build-up of eye pressure. It is the most common form of glaucoma and very treatable if caught early. There are usually no symptoms of this problem, but it can be detected with a comprehensive eye examination. This can be treated with medication eye drops, laser or surgical procedures.
Narrow Angle Glaucoma
This is where there is a narrow space (called the angle) where the internal fluid should drain in the eye. This can result in intermittent high eye pressure or a very sudden, painful spike in pressure if the angle closes. This is usually treated by making a hole in the iris to allow more free flow of the fluid.
This is glaucoma due other medical problems, medication use or an injury to the eye.
If you experience any change in your vision, visit your eye doctor immediately.