Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. While close to 3 million Americans have glaucoma — the second leading cause of blindness — nearly half are unaware they have the disease.
There are often no early symptoms of glaucoma. Although certain groups — African-Americans over age 40, people age 60 or older, those with a family history of glaucoma, and people with diabetes — are at greater risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that anyone can get glaucoma. The key is to help protect your eyes and lower your risk of vision loss from glaucoma through early vision care and awareness.
Dr. Lina Amini, an ophthalmologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, recently took some time to answer the top three questions about the main types of glaucoma: open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma. Both are caused by increased pressure inside the eye.
What are the signs of glaucoma?
The majority of glaucoma patients do not have any symptoms and detecting glaucoma at the very early stages is difficult. Everyone should have a baseline eye exam at age 40 or even earlier if you are in a high-risk group to determine the health of your eyes, catch glaucoma early and start the appropriate treatment if needed.
Symptoms may occur when glaucoma has progressed to advanced stages. In the advanced stages of primary open-angle and chronic angle-closure glaucoma, patients may notice:
- Blurry vision
- Loss of vision on the side or peripheral vision
A patient with an acute angle-closure, which results in a sudden increase in eye pressure, may experience:
- Severe eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Colored halos around lights
- Transient loss of vision
- Headache, nausea and vomiting
What are the risk factors for glaucoma?
Risk factors for primary open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common form of glaucoma in the U.S., include:
- Age — adults over age 60 are at higher risk
- Race — primary open-angle glaucoma is more prevalent in African-Americans and Hispanics
- Family history of glaucoma
- Personal history of diabetes and high blood pressure or very low blood pressure
- Refractive error (the shape of your eye does not bend light correctly)
- Increased eye pressure
- Thickness of the central cornea of the eye
Risk factors for angle-closure glaucoma include:
- Gender — women are more likely to develop this type of glaucoma
- Race — those of Asian and Inuit heritage are at higher risk
- Being farsighted
- Having a shallow anterior chamber, which is the fluid-filled space inside the eye between the iris and the cornea
Are there ways to prevent and treat glaucoma?
If your eye care professional tells you that you have evidence of glaucoma, you will require regular follow-up to look for any signs of progression of the disease. Unfortunately, vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. However, routine follow-up and management can slow down the progression of the disease and prevent further vision loss.
Lowering the eye pressure in patients with elevated pressure — but no evidence of structural or functional damage to the optic nerve — has been shown to reduce the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma. Patients at risk for angle-closure glaucoma can be treated with a laser treatment called laser peripheral iridotomy.
Talk to your ophthalmologist if you are in a glaucoma high-risk group or would like to schedule your baseline eye exam when you turn 40. Taking early steps to protect your eyes can lower your risk of vision loss from glaucoma.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Lina Amini about glaucoma for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.