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Glaucoma is an eye disease that is the number one cause of blindness for adults over the age of 60, although it can impact people at any age.
There are very few early warning signs for glaucoma. The best way to know if you have it is to get regular eye exams. (Learn More)
Several factors, such as family history, can increase your risk for glaucoma. (Learn More) In order to prevent and minimize your risk for vision loss, you will need to keep the pressure in your eyes down.
Once glaucoma is diagnosed, there are many successful treatment methods for slowing and even stopping the progression of the disease. (Learn More)
Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that has very few early warning signs, but without treatment, it can lead to blindness.
The disease occurs when the pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) gets too high and damages the optic nerve. As the pressure in the eye increases the damage to the optic nerve, this can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness.
The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, has no symptoms prior to peripheral vision loss most of the time. You may also experience patchy vision or blind spots. Generally, the early signs of glaucoma are not apparent until vision loss has taken place.
Vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible. Early detection is essential to minimizing possible damage.
The best way to spot glaucoma early on, and therefore start treatment to stop or slow the progression of the disease, is through regular eye exams.
An eye doctor will dilate your pupils and measure your intraocular pressure (IOP) to make sure your levels are in the normal range. If your levels are too high, the doctor will assess whether you have glaucoma. The goal is to diagnose glaucoma before vision loss occurs.
A visual field test will check your peripheral vision to ensure that you are not losing any side vision, which can be a sign of glaucoma.
Spotting glaucoma early can help you to slow and even stop vision loss from occurring.
When Glaucoma Is a Medical Emergency
A less common form of glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, can involve acute attacks. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma comes with certain symptoms, such as:
- Intense headache.
- Blurred vision.
- Eye pain.
- Redness and eye irritation.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Rainbows and/or halos around lights.
An acute angle-closure glaucoma attack is a medical emergency. If you spot these signs, emergency medical attention is needed.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
You should be screened for glaucoma during routine eye exams. These eye exams should begin in adulthood, especially older adulthood.
An exam that tests the pressure of your eye will include pupil dilation and IOP measurements to screen for glaucoma.
There are certain risk factors for glaucoma. The following can increase your odds of developing glaucoma:
- Genetics: This disease is considered to be hereditary, as it runs in families. If someone in your immediate family suffers from glaucoma, you have a four to nine times greater risk of also developing the disease.
- Age: Glaucoma is most prevalent in adults over age 60.
- Race: African Americans, people of African descent, Hispanics, and those of Asian descent are all at higher risk for glaucoma even early in life, as early as age 40.
- Corticosteroid use: Long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids, raises the risk for glaucoma.
- Hypertension, extreme myopia (nearsightedness), thin corneas, and diabetes: Medical conditions and biological factors, including corneal thickness, chronic eye inflammation, and certain illnesses, can increase the pressure in your eye and therefore put you at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Eye trauma: Injury to the eye can increase your IOP and therefore lead to glaucoma.
Preventative measures can help to minimize your risk for glaucoma.
- Get routine eye exams.
- Eat a well-rounded and nutritious diet.
- Stay hydrated.
- Exercise regularly to promote blood flow.
- Don't smoke, and regulate your caffeine intake.
- Protect your eyes from injury, trauma, and the sun. Wear eye protection.
You may not be able to completely control the onset of glaucoma, but you can take steps to keep your eyes healthy and catch its development as early as possible.
Slowing the Progression of Glaucoma
Once glaucoma has been diagnosed, you can prevent vision loss and slow the progression of the disease by taking certain steps.
- Continue to get regular eye exams to monitor your IOP.
- Take measures to lower the pressure in your eye through treatments, such as medications, laser procedures, or surgeries. Daily prescription eye drops are often needed.
- Follow all directions from your eye care provider and doctor.
- Take any prescribed medications exactly as directed, and report any vision changes or possible side effects to your doctor immediately.
- Sleep with your head elevated, such as on a wedge pillow, to keep your head above your heart. This can lower the pressure in your eyes.
- Talk to your doctor about exercise to make sure that you are staying within a healthy range for your eyes.
Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease. Once you start losing vision, you can't reverse the damage. You can slow or stop future vision loss, however.
Keeping your IOP under control can help to prevent blindness. With proper treatment, most people do not go blind from glaucoma.
While it can be tough to spot the early signs of glaucoma on your own, regular visits with an eye care provider can help you detect the disease early.
What Is Glaucoma? (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Glaucoma. (2019). American Optometric Association (AOA).
Glaucoma. (July 2019). National Eye Institute.
Are You at Risk for Glaucoma? (October 2019). Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Understanding Your Glaucoma Diagnosis. (October 2017). Glaucoma Research Foundation.