What is glaucoma and how is it detected and treated?
Glaucoma (pronounced glock-oma) is a progressive eye disease that may happen very gradually over time. Often, there are no uncomfortable or painful symptoms to serve as warnings. In fact, only half of all people with glaucoma even realize they have the disease.1 That’s why it’s important to schedule regular eye exams. It’s a way to help to detect this disease before it's too late — otherwise, you may be completely unaware that you’re losing vision.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be powerless to glaucoma. With early glaucoma detection and treatment, and with promising studies in the works,2 you can help to protect your eyes and preserve your sight long into the future.
Get answers to your questions about glaucoma
You may have many questions about glaucoma, like how to be on the look out for it and how it may affect you or your loved ones. Let's go over common questions and answers about this disease.
There is a misconception that glaucoma may inevitably lead to blindness. While it’s true that there is no cure right now, when caught early enough, the disease may be treatable. One important factor in your treatment is your own involvement.
Like a clogged sink, glaucoma occurs when your eye can’t drain properly. When the “water” backs up, pressure builds inside the eye. With no place for the fluid to go, the optic nerve — the visual connection from the eye to the brain — may become damaged. When the nerve is damaged, the “delivery route” for images may become blocked. And when the brain doesn’t receive the message, we can no longer see the image.3
Glaucoma relates to pressure in your eye. Because everyone has eye pressure that may fluctuate, anyone can get glaucoma — from babies to teenagers to older adults. Some groups, though, are at higher risk.
Those at high-risk include those who are:4
- Over 40 years of age, with risk going up considerably after 60
- Of African American, East Asian or Hispanic descent
- Nearsighted or farsighted
As well as people who may have:5
- An eye condition or previous eye injury
- A family history of glaucoma
- Diabetes or heart disease
- High or low blood pressure
- Thin corneas
- Used steroids long-term
The area of vision affected by glaucoma is not at the center of our sight, but our peripheral vision, which may make it harder to notice when there’s a change. In the common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, there may not be any uncomfortable or painful symptoms (which is why it’s so critical to have regular eye exams). In the less common form of glaucoma, acute angle-closure, there may be symptoms.6 Those may include:
- Sudden eye pain
- Rainbow colored circles or halos around bright lights
- Patchy vision or blind spots
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurry/hazy vision
It’s important to see a doctor right away if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
Age 40, when many people first start noticing changes in vision, may be a good time to schedule a baseline glaucoma screening.7 The results of the screening may determine the frequency of follow-up exams. You may need a baseline screening sooner if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.8
In order to treat glaucoma, you must lower your eye pressure. Depending on the severity of glaucoma, you may need treatment for the rest of your life.
- Prescription eye drops: Keeps the disease from getting worse by increasing the outflow of fluid from your eyes, or reducing the production of fluid from your eyes
- Oral medication: Brings eye pressure down
- Laser treatment: Opens clogged eye channels
- Surgery: Can create a new opening in the eye to drain fluid and relieve pressure
Medical experts recommend adopting a healthy lifestyle to help minimize your risk.10 This includes:
- Exercising regularly, with approval from your doctor
- Watching your caffeine (try swapping out tea for coffee or soda)
- Drinking fluids slowly, sipping small amounts
- Elevating your head when you sleep
- Seeing the dentist every six months
- Not smoking (of if you do smoke, get support to quit)
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Getting screened for glaucoma
- Loading up on leafy green vegetables11
Get tested for glaucoma and other eye diseases
If you’re concerned about glaucoma, find a network vision provider and schedule a comprehensive, dilated eye exam.
- Glaucoma Initiatives www.cdc.gov, 2020.
- Promising Glaucoma Research and the Path to a Cure www.glaucoma.org, 2020.
- Causes of Glaucoma www.nei.nih.gov, 2019.
- Eye Diseases & Conditions Glaucoma preventblindness.org, 2020.
- Who's at Risk? glaucomafoundation.org, 2020.
- What Is Glaucoma? www.aao.org, 2020.
- Five Common Glaucoma Tests www.glaucoma.org, 2020.
- What Is Glaucoma? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention www.everydayhealth.com, 2020.
- Glaucoma: Diagnosis and Treatment www.mayoclinic.org, 2020.
- Do Lifestyle Choices Affect Glaucoma? www.glaucoma.org, 2017.
- What Vitamins and Nutrients Will Help Prevent My Glaucoma from Worsening? www.glaucoma.org, 2018.