Glaucoma is a serious disorder that can damage the optic nerves of your eyes if left untreated. The optic nerve carries images from your eyes to your brain. If the nerve is damaged, full or partial vision loss can occur. In some cases, people develop glaucoma because the pressure in their eyes begins to increase while, in others, ocular (eye) pressure is not an issue.
Although the word "glaucoma" is used as a blanket term to describe this condition, there are actually several different forms of the disorder.
Types of Glaucoma
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
This type of glaucoma occurs when you produce too much aqueous humor, the clear liquid that fills your eyeball, or when channels that drain the aqueous humor become blocked. In both cases, pressure in your eye begins to increase, which can lead to optic nerve damage. If you do not have a glaucoma test at your optometrist's office regularly, you probably will not know that you have primary open-angle glaucoma until you begin to notice problems with your side, or peripheral, vision.
Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma
Acute angle-closure glaucoma occurs due to a sudden blockage in the drainage channels in the eye. Eye pressure rises quickly, causing severe pain, redness, decreased vision and nausea. If you develop any of these symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately. If the problem is not corrected promptly, you may experience permanent vision loss.
In normal-tension glaucoma, optic nerve damage occurs even though the pressure in your eye remains at normal levels. The first sign that you have this form of glaucoma is often tunnel vision.
Less-Common Forms of Glaucoma
Pigmentary glaucoma occurs when a tiny piece of pigment breaks loose from your iris and blocks the drainage channels in your eye while secondary glaucoma develops after an eye infection or injury. Some children are born with congenital glaucoma, an inherited form of the disorder.
Who Gets Glaucoma
Although anyone can get glaucoma, some people have an increased risk of developing the disorder. Your chances of getting glaucoma may be higher if:
You have structural abnormalities in your eyes.
You are very nearsighted or have a family history of glaucoma.
You are over 60, or are black, Hispanic or Asian.
You recently had an eye infection or eye surgery.
You have sickle cell anemia, diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure.
You take corticosteroids.
How Glaucoma is Diagnosed
Yearly eye checkups can help you avoid vision loss due to glaucoma. Since symptoms do not usually occur until there is already damage, frequent glaucoma tests are a must. Optometrists use several painless screening tests. Tonometry measures the pressure inside your eye while visual field testing tests your peripheral vision.
Special eye drops that dilate the pupils allow doctors to take a close look at your eyes and spot any signs that could indicate that you have glaucoma. Optic nerve imaging provides a picture of your nerve and is useful for spotting changes or damage.
How Glaucoma is Treated
Optometrists prescribe a variety of eye drops that work by either decreasing fluid production or improving drainage. In some cases, oral medication also helps lower the pressure in your eye.
Surgery can help improve drainage in your eye and is the recommended treatment if you suddenly develop acute angle-closure glaucoma. Both traditional and laser surgery is used to treat the disorder.