Understanding glaucoma’s symptoms, causes, and treatments

There are two major types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.
Older woman with eyeglasses walking outdoors

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve in your eye, which carries information from the eye to the brain – allowing you to see clearly. It occurs when fluid builds up in your eye, increasing the eye’s pressure. This increase in pressure slowly damages the millions of fibers that make up your eye’s optic nerve.

There are two major types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

  • Primary open-angle—Happens gradually as the eye does not drain fluid as well as it should, leading to pressure buildup and optic nerve damage.
  • Angle-closure—Happens when the iris is close to the drainage angle, or the area of the eye that drains fluids, and blocks the fluid from draining.

What are symptoms of glaucoma?

In most cases, glaucoma persists with no symptoms until irreversible damage is caused to the optic nerve and vision loss takes place. As the disease develops, blind spots will begin to appear in your peripheral (side) vision, causing an effect similar to tunnel vision.

What causes glaucoma?

When fluid cannot drain properly from your eye, the pressure is not regulated and builds, damaging the optic nerve. As glaucoma damages the small fibers in the optic nerve, your vision worsens. If all of the fibers are gone, you will become blind. Important risk factors include age, race, genetics, and medical conditions.

How do you treat glaucoma?

The damage glaucoma causes will be permanent. However, you can take certain steps to slow the progression of the disease and prevent further damage. Glaucoma is usually treated using daily eye drops that either decrease eye pressures or reduce the amount of fluid in the eye. Another form of treatment includes a laser eye surgery called a trabeculectomy.

Sources: All About Vision, AAO, AOA, Glaucoma.org, NIH.gov

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