What is Glaucoma?
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. The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.
Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from this increased pressure, it is important to see your eye doctor regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term visual loss occurs.
Who Gets Glaucoma?
Glaucoma most often occurs in adults over age 40, but it can also occur in young adults, children, and even infants. In African-Americans, glaucoma occurs more frequently and at an earlier age and with greater loss of vision.
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?
For most people, there are usually few or no symptoms of glaucoma. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease. This is why glaucoma is often called the “sneak thief of vision.” Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should have a complete exam with an eye specialist every one to two years. Occasionally, intraocular pressure can rise to severe levels. In these cases, sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision, or the appearance of halos around lights may occur.
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)
Can Glaucoma Be Prevented?
Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled.
What Is the prognosis of Glaucoma?
At this time, loss of vision caused by glaucoma is irreversible and cannot be restored. However, successfully lowering eye pressure can help prevent further visual loss from glaucoma. Most people with glaucoma do not go blind if they follow their treatment plan and have regular eye exams.