Glaucoma

Glaucoma is sometimes called the “silent thief of sight” because it slowly damages the eyes and can cause irreparable harm before there is any vision loss. Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.

What Are the Types of Glaucoma?

There are two main types of glaucoma:

  • Open-angle glaucoma. Also called wide-angle glaucoma, this is the most common type of glaucoma. The structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye does not flow properly through the drain of the eye, called the trabecular meshwork.
  • Angle-closure glaucoma. Also called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma is less common in the West than in Asia. Poor drainage is caused because the angle between the iris and the cornea is too narrow and is physically blocked by the iris. This condition leads to a sudden buildup of pressure in the eye.

Who Gets Glaucoma?

You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:

  • Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent
  • Are over age 40
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have poor vision
  • Have diabetes
  • Take certain steroid medications, such as prednisone
  • Have had trauma to the eye or eyes

What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

If you have any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical care:

  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Vision loss
  • Redness in the eye
  • Eye that looks hazy (particularly in infants)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the eye
  • Narrowing of vision (tunnel vision)

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Glaucoma treatment may include prescription eye drops, laser surgery, or microsurgery.

  • Eye drops for glaucoma. These either reduce the formation of fluid in the front of the eye or increase its outflow. Side effects of glaucoma drops may include allergy, redness of the eyes, brief stinging, blurred vision, and irritated eyes. Some glaucoma drugs may affect the heart and lungs. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you are currently taking or are allergic to.
  • Laser surgery for glaucoma. Laser surgery for glaucoma slightly increases the outflow of the fluid from the eye in open-angle glaucoma or eliminates fluid blockage in angle-closure glaucoma. Types of laser surgery for glaucoma include trabeculoplasty, in which a laser is used to pull open the trabecular meshwork drainage area; iridotomy, in which a tiny hole is made in the iris, allowing the fluid to flow more freely; and cyclophotocoagulation, in which a laser beam treats areas of the middle layer of the eye, reducing the production of fluid.
  • Microsurgery for glaucoma. In an operation called a trabeculectomy, a new channel is created to drain the fluid, thereby reducing intraocular pressure that causes glaucoma. Sometimes this form of glaucoma surgery fails and must be redone. For some patients, a glaucoma implant is the best option. Other complications of microsurgery for glaucoma include some temporary or permanent loss of vision, as well as bleeding or infection.