Early symptoms: None
Later symptoms: loss of central vision, blurred or wavy central vision, drusen.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve of the eye and lead to vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure within the eye slowly increases. However, recent findings indicate that glaucoma can also occur under normal intraocular pressure. With early treatment, your eyes can usually be protected from severe vision loss.
Glaucoma is mainly divided into two categories: "open-angle type" and "closed-angle type". Angina is a chronic disease that progresses slowly over a long period of time, and people don’t notice vision loss until the condition is very severe, which is why it’s called the “thief of sight.” Angle closure can occur suddenly and be painful. Vision loss may progress rapidly; however, pain and discomfort may cause patients to seek medical assistance before permanent damage occurs.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging the nerve at the back of the eye called the optic nerve.
These symptoms may come on very slowly and you may not notice them. The only way to determine if you have glaucoma is to have a complete dilated eye exam.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision.
What are the types of glaucoma?
There are many different types of glaucoma, but the most common type in the United States is called open-angle glaucoma —which is what most people mean when they talk about glaucoma. Other types are less common, such as angle-closure glaucoma and congenital glaucoma.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
At first, glaucoma usually has no symptoms. That's why half of the people with glaucoma don't even know they have the disease.
You may slowly lose vision over time, usually starting with your side (peripheral) vision, especially the part of your vision closest to your nose. Because this change occurs so slowly, many people are not aware that their vision is changing at first.
But as your condition worsens, you may start to notice that you can no longer put things aside. If left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness.
Am I at risk for glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but some people are at a higher risk. You are at higher risk if you:
- Age 60 and older, especially Hispanic/Latinx
- Be African American and over 40 years old
- Have a family history of glaucoma
Discuss your risk of glaucoma with your doctor and ask how often you need checkups. If you are at higher risk, you will need a comprehensive dilated eye exam every 1 to 2 years.
What are the causes of glaucoma?
Scientists are not sure what causes the most common type of glaucoma, but many people with glaucoma have high eye pressure, and treatments to lower eye pressure can help slow the condition.
How will my eye doctor check for glaucoma?
An ophthalmologist can check for glaucoma as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is easy and painless - your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupils and then check your eyes for glaucoma and other eye problems. This exam includes a visual field test to check your side vision.
What is the treatment for glaucoma?
Doctors use different types of glaucoma treatments, including medications (usually eye drops), laser therapy, and surgery.
If you have glaucoma, it's important to start treatment right away. Treatment will not remove any damage to your vision, but it can stop it from getting worse.
Medications. Prescription eye drops are the most common treatment. They lower eye pressure and prevent damage to the optic nerve.
Learn more about glaucoma medications
Laser treatment. To lower intraocular pressure, doctors may use lasers to help drain fluid from the eye. This is a simple procedure that your doctor can perform in the office.
Learn more about laser treatment for glaucoma
Surgery. If medications and laser treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are several different types of surgery that can help fluid drain from the eye.
Learn more about glaucoma surgery
Discuss your options with your doctor. Although glaucoma is a serious disease, treatment can be effective. Remember these tips:
- If your doctor prescribes medication, be sure to take it every day
- Tell your doctor if your treatment causes side effects
- Go to the doctor for regular checkups
- If you are unable to perform daily activities due to vision loss, talk to your doctor about vision rehabilitation services or devices that can help
- Encourage families to get checked for glaucoma, as glaucoma can run in families
What is the latest research on glaucoma?
Scientists are studying the causes of glaucoma and how to detect it earlier and treat it better. NEI also funds research into new treatment options.