Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States, making it an important public health priority. Although there are several factors that cause glaucoma, all types of glaucoma are characterized by damage to the optic nerve. This damage prevents the brain from receiving appropriate visual information, resulting in vision loss. When the damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed. Without treatment, tunnel vision can occur, followed by complete vision loss. If you experience any change in vision, contact an eye care provider immediately for a full examination.

Causes of Glaucoma

Although there are many types of glaucoma and the exact causes are unknown, the general characteristics are understood. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease. This form results when the eye cannot drain fluids efficiently, leading to increased pressure in the eye and damage to the optic nerve. Changes to the blood supply fueling the optic nerve may also cause optic nerve damage, resulting in vision loss.

A less common form of glaucoma, called angle-closure glaucoma, occurs when the drainage angle between the iris and cornea is blocked. This causes a rapid buildup of fluid, which can permanently damage vision within one day of its onset. Other forms of glaucoma form because of medical conditions, physical injuries, abnormal eye conditions, or medication use.

elderly woman with glaucoma looking for treatment or surgery in williamsburg va

diagram of eye with glaucoma

Symptoms of Glaucoma

The symptoms of glaucoma depend on the type that you have. Open-angle glaucoma shows no early signs. This is why it is nicknamed, “the silent thief of sight.” Because this type of glaucoma shows no symptoms until the disease has progressed, annual eye exams are essential.

The symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma begin as soon as the disease does. Sudden eye pain and severe headaches often occur with this type of glaucoma. The other symptoms include vision loss, blurry vision, nausea and vomiting, and redness of the eye. Some patients with this type of glaucoma report seeing halos around lights.

Learn more about the risk factors for glaucoma at Eye Center of Virginia in Williamsburg VA

Risk Factors for Glaucoma

Certain groups of people are at greater risk for developing glaucoma.

  • Older adults. Individuals greater than 60 years old are at increased risk for developing the disease. The risk continues to rise slightly for each year beyond 60.
  • African Americans and Asians. African Americans are significantly more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians, and that risk begins to rise at age 40. Similarly, Asian individuals are at greater risk of angle-closure glaucoma, while people of Japanese descent at a high risk of another form of the disease called low-tension glaucoma.
  • Diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These medical conditions significantly increase glaucoma risk and high blood pressure is a risk factor for the disease.
  • Family history. If you have one or more first-degree relatives with glaucoma, your risk for the disease increases. This suggests that there may be a genetic component to developing glaucoma.
  • Corticosteroid use. Corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation related to arthritis, lupus, and other conditions. Chronic use of corticosteroids may increase your risk of developing glaucoma

Glaucoma diagnosis and treatment at the eye center of virginia in williamsburg va

Glaucoma Diagnosis and Treatment

A thorough optometry exam includes checking for symptoms of glaucoma. To make a diagnosis, the eye care provider may measure corneal thickness, check the pressure inside your eyes, test changes to your vision, evaluate your retinas, and assess abnormal eye anatomy.

During your annual eye exam, your eye doctor will dilate your eyes to get a good look at your optic nerve. If they see something that makes them suspect glaucoma, a tonometry test will be performed to check the pressure in your eye. A visual field test may be performed to determine how much damage the disease has caused to your peripheral vision. Photos of your optic nerve may also be taken so that your eye doctor can track the progression of the disease over time.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma; however, there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease. If glaucoma is caught early, further vision loss can be prevented. Treatments commonly include medications to reduce intraocular pressure or surgery. If you have noticed vision changes, ask your eye doctor to determine if glaucoma may be the underlying cause.

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