Understanding Glaucoma: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

The Shah Eye Center Blog
understanding glaucoma

Glaucoma is an umbrella term for a cluster of related conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve in the eye (the part that is responsible for transmitting images to the brain), with the damage getting worse over time.

The damage is done by an ongoing buildup of pressure, which leads to the loss of retinal ganglion cells in a readily identifiable pattern; this process is often referred to as “optic neuropathy”. glaucoma tends to run in families, but does not typically show up in a person until they are older.

What Causes Glaucoma?

At this time, doctors are not sure what causes glaucoma, but they have ascertained that the pressure is caused a buildup of the fluid (aqueous humour) that flows in and out of the eye.

Aside from family history, risk factors such as certain medications (notably Prednisone) and diabetes have been implicated as possible causes for glaucoma. Injury and infection, in rare cases, can also cause this type of pressure to build up in the eye.

What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

The symptoms of glaucoma depend largely on the type; while the term glaucoma includes many possible conditions, they fall pretty squarely into two categories: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma, also known as wide-angle glaucoma, is the most common type of glaucoma, and is much harder to catch in the act, because with this type of glaucoma, the structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye is nonetheless not flowing properly through the trabecular meshwork.

This type of pressure often builds up slowly and causes no initial symptoms; the patient will sometimes only realize he or she has it when the damage to the eye becomes evident in the form of severe vision loss.

Angle-closure glaucoma, also known as acute or narrow-angle glaucoma, is less common, and as the term “acute” suggests, tend to come on suddenly. This type is named “angle closure” glaucoma because it refers to what happens when the angle between the iris and the cornea is so narrow that it closes off the drainage channel there.

The symptoms of this kind of glaucoma are much more noticeable; the sudden and intense pressure often causes such severe pain that patients immediately get their eyes checked, which can mean less damage occurs to the optic nerve than in the often asymptomatic open-angle glaucoma.

In general, the symptoms to watch for are:

  • Initial loss of peripheral vision, which gradually narrows inward
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Chronic eye redness
  • Eye appears hazy
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the eye

How is Glaucoma Treated?

Because of how difficult it is to detect some forms of glaucoma one’s self, it’s vital to see your eye doctor at least once a year if you are over 40. This is often the only way that glaucoma gets caught and treated before it causes permanent damage to one’s vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause full and permanent blindness within just a few years.

Early diagnosis is key to stopping glaucoma in its tracks.

To diagnose glaucoma, your eye doctor will closely examine your optic nerve; the way it appears when afflicted by glaucoma is fairly universal, so the condition is easily caught by a professional.

The doctor will then perform a tonometry test to check for eye pressure and assess peripheral vision and total vision loss. All of these tests are simple, quick, and painless.

Glaucoma is treated by one of the following procedures:

  • Eye drops to either reduce the formation of fluid in the front of the eye or get the fluid to more effectively flow out of the eye. These may cause allergic reactions in some people, leading other options to be assessed.
  • Laser surgery can be used with glaucoma to help increase the flow of fluid leaving the eye or open the blocked drainage channel in cases of acute glaucoma. This can be done via trabeculoplasty, in which a laser is used to gently re-open the trabecular meshwork drainage area, or iridotomy, which creates a tiny hole in the iris for fluid to drain out of. There is also cyclophotocoagulation, which is the use of a laser treatment to reduce the eye’s production of fluid.
  • Finally, there is the option of a glaucoma implant, which may become necessary if other microsurgery procedures are not successful.

For more information on glaucoma detection and treatment options, schedule an appointment with Shah Eye Center today.