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Detecting Eye Diseases and Conditions

Your Eyes and Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of related eye diseases that can cause blindness. Many people who have it don't know it. That's because symptoms don't appear until glaucoma has already damaged the optic nerve. This nerve carries images from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma optic nerve damage is usually associated with an elevated pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure).

The most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma. Its causes are not yet clearly understood. Glaucoma can also develop without an increase in eye pressure, called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma.

Who's at Risk for Glaucoma?

Glaucoma can develop in anyone. However, people at increased risk include:

  • People over age 60
  • Mexican-Americans
  • All African-Americans and especially those with high eye pressure, corneal thinness, or optic nerve problems
  • Anyone who has had a severe eye injury
  • People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes
  • Anyone with a family history of glaucoma
  • A person who has increased eye pressure

Symptoms of Glaucoma

Typically, glaucoma has no symptoms until the latest and most advanced stages when vision is just about gone. That’s why some people call glaucoma “the sneak thief of sight.” As this eye disease progresses, the person with glaucoma may notice progressive vision loss, including:

  • Blurry vision
  • Narrowed side (peripheral) vision
  • Problems focusing
  • A "halo" effect around lights (This is unusual and typically occurs at extreme eye pressures and acute glaucoma attacks.)

Treatment for Glaucoma

There is no cure for glaucoma. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. However, early detection and treatment of this eye disease can often protect you from severe vision loss. 

Glaucoma treatment may include:

  • Eye drops or pills that help reduce pressure in the eye
  • Several kinds of laser treatments to decrease eye pressure or to compensate for narrow angle glaucoma
  • Surgery to create a new opening for fluid to drain from the eye

If you're taking medicine for glaucoma, take your medicine every day as directed. Remember, when you don’t take your medicine, your eye pressure increases -- and that may be silently causing permanent vision loss. 

If you've lost some vision due to this eye disease, your eye doctor can refer you for low-vision services. Low-vision aids can help you make the most of your remaining vision.

Steps to Prevent Glaucoma

The key to preventing glaucoma is to maintain normal eye pressure. What eye pressure level is "normal" for you? Only an eye doctor can determine this.

Have regular eye exams every two years until age 60 and then every year afterward.

Your eye doctor may notice high eye pressure or may determine that you are at high risk of developing glaucoma. In these cases, you may be asked to use eye drops or visit the doctor more often. In some people who are at risk for glaucoma, eye drop treatment can reduce the risk by about 50%. Reducing eye pressure is the only known way to slow or stop the progression of visual loss from glaucoma. 


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on September 29, 2013

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