What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a term that encompasses various eye conditions that harm the optic nerve, responsible for transmitting visual signals from the eye to the brain, crucial for clear vision. While elevated eye pressure often contributes to optic nerve damage, it’s worth noting that glaucoma can develop even when eye pressure is within normal ranges.

Glaucoma may develop at any stage of life, yet it predominantly affects older individuals. Particularly, it stands as a significant contributor to blindness among those aged 60 and above. Notably, various types of glaucoma manifest without evident warning signals.

The progression of this condition often occurs gradually, making it challenging to discern changes in vision until advanced stages are reached. Therefore, regular eye examinations incorporating eye pressure assessments are crucial. Early detection of glaucoma enables interventions that can impede or mitigate vision loss. For individuals diagnosed with glaucoma, ongoing treatment or monitoring becomes a lifelong necessity.

Symptoms

The symptoms of glaucoma depend on the stage and type of your condition.

In the initial phases of Open-angle glaucoma, symptoms are typically absent. Over time, however, individuals may experience the emergence of patchy blind spots in their peripheral vision, commonly referred to as side vision. As the condition progresses, difficulties in seeing objects within the central vision may arise.

In instances of Acute angle-closure glaucoma, individuals may encounter intense headaches or severe eye discomfort. Symptoms may further manifest as nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, the appearance of halos or colored rings around lights, or eye redness.

As for Normal-tension glaucoma, early stages may not present symptoms, yet gradually, vision may become blurred. In advanced stages, the loss of peripheral vision may occur.

Glaucoma in children can be identified with blurred vision, nearsightedness that tends to get worse, headache, pigmentary glaucoma, halos around lights, blurred vision with exercise and gradual loss of side vision. In infants, symptoms may be expressed as a dull or cloudy eye, increased blinking or tears without crying.
 

When to see a doctor

If you experience any of the symptoms that come on suddenly, you may have acute angle-closure glaucoma. Symptoms include severe headache and severe eye pain. You need treatment as soon as possible. Go to an emergency room or call an eye doctor’s (ophthalmologist’s) office as soon as possible.


Causes

Glaucoma emerges when damage occurs to the optic nerve, leading to the formation of blind spots in one’s vision as the nerve gradually deteriorates. While the precise causes of this nerve damage remain unclear to medical experts, it is often associated with heightened pressure within the eye.

Increased eye pressure arises due to the accumulation of fluid, known as aqueous humor, within the eye’s interior. Normally, this fluid drains through the trabecular meshwork, a tissue positioned at the angle where the iris and cornea meet. As the cornea facilitates the entry of light into the eye, disruptions in the drainage process or excessive fluid production can elevate eye pressure.
 

Open-angle glaucoma
This is the predominant type of glaucoma, characterized by an open drainage angle between the iris and cornea. However, dysfunction in other parts of the drainage system impairs proper fluid outflow, resulting in a gradual elevation of intraocular pressure over time.

 

Angle-closure glaucoma
Angle-closure glaucoma arises when the iris protrudes, obstructing the drainage angle partially or entirely. Consequently, the fluid within the eye cannot circulate properly, leading to an escalation in pressure. This condition can manifest suddenly or progress gradually over time.

Normal-tension glaucoma
The precise cause of optic nerve damage in cases of normal eye pressure remains unknown. It’s possible that the optic nerve is sensitive or experiences reduced blood flow, which could be attributed to various factors. These factors may include the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, or other circulatory disorders.

 

Glaucoma in children

Glaucoma can manifest in children either from birth or during the early years of life. Factors such as blocked drainage, injury, or an underlying medical condition may contribute to optic nerve damage in pediatric cases.

 

Pigmentary glaucoma

Pigmentary glaucoma involves the shedding of tiny pigment granules from the iris, which can obstruct or impede fluid drainage from the eye. Physical activities like jogging can occasionally agitate these pigment granules, resulting in their deposition on the tissue where the iris and cornea intersect. This accumulation of granules leads to elevated pressure within the eye. 

Glaucoma tends to run in the family, and in some cases, research has identified genes related to high eye pressure as well as optic nerve damage.

 

Risk factors

Glaucoma can damage vision before you notice any symptoms. So be aware of these risk factors in regards to Glaucoma.

 

High internal eye pressure, also known as intraocular pressure

Eye injury or certain types of eye surgery

Black, Asian or Hispanic heritage

Family history of glaucoma

Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia

Corneas that are thin in the center

Age over 55

Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness

Taking corticosteroid medicines, especially eye drops, for a long time

Some people have narrow drainage angles, putting them at increased risk of angle-closure glaucoma.

 

Keep an eye out for these symptoms for yourself and your family!