Glaucoma is a disease that affects your eyes and usually occurs when extra fluid builds up in the front portion of your eye. This increased pressure damages your eye’s optic nerve, and can lead to blindness. It’s one of the leading causes of blindness for those who are older than 60 years, but early treatment can usually prevent blindness.
Glaucoma is caused by optic nerve damage, which is related to increased eye pressure. Normally fluid in the eye drains into the front of the eye through tissue at the angle where the iris and cornea intersect. But, if there is too much fluid or the drainage system isn’t functioning properly the pressure will build up.
There are several different types.
This is the most common type and is caused when the tissue that the fluid flows though is partially blocked, causing a gradual increase in eye pressure. The damage to your optic nerve is so slow you may start to lose your vision before you realize it.
Unfortunately, there are no obvious warning signs or symptoms in its early stages. Only as the disease progresses and you develop blind spots in your peripheral vision will you experience any symptoms.
Also known as closed-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma happens when your iris protrudes forward and blocks or narrows the angle where the iris and cornea intersect. Consequently, the fluid can’t circulate in the eye and the pressure increases.
Angle-closure glaucoma can occur unexpectedly (i.e. acute angle-closure glaucoma) and is a medical emergency, or gradually (i.e. chronic angle-closure glaucoma).
Early symptoms of an acute angle-closure attack may include blurred vision, halos, mild headaches, or eye pain. Someone who is experiencing an attack may have the following symptoms:
- Severe pain in the eye or forehead;
- Redness of the eye;
- Decreased or blurred vision;
- Seeing rainbows or halos;
- Headache; and
- Nausea or vomiting.
In this variation, patients have normal eye pressures, but damaged optic nerves. No one knows exactly why, but some believe it could be that you have a sensitive optic nerve or possibly less blood supplied to the nerve from atherosclerosis or some other circulatory condition.
The only symptoms normal-tension patients have are blind spots in their field of vision and optic nerve damage, with normal eye pressures.
When this occurs, pigment granules from your iris block your drainage channels and cause sporadic pressure increases.
There are some people who are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma, which include:
- Those over age 40;
- Those with family members with glaucoma;
- Those of African or Hispanic heritage;
- Those with high eye pressures;
- Those who are far- or nearsighted;
- Those who have had an eye injury;
- Those who have corneas with thin centers;
- Those who have thinning of the optic center; and
- Those who have diabetes, migraines, poor blood circulation, or other whole-body health conditions.
Treatments include medications, laser therapy, and assorted surgical procedures. Medications usually begin with prescription eye drops, like these:
- Prostaglandins: Xalatan, Lumigan;
- Beta blockers: Timoptic, Betoptic;
- Alpha-adrenergic agonists: Iopidine, Alphagan;
- Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors: Trusopt, Azopt; and
- Miotic or cholinergic agents: Isopto Carpine.
Please note that lists of commonly prescribed drugs are not all-inclusive.