What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye's optic nerve and gets worse over time. It's often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.
The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to your brain. If the damage continues, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.
Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain. You need to see your eye doctor regularly so she can diagnose and treat glaucoma before long-term visual loss happens.If you’re over age 40 and have a family history of the disease, you should get a complete eye exam from an eye doctor every 1 to 2 years. If you have health problems like diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to go more often.
What Causes Glaucoma?
It’s the result of high fluid pressure inside your eye. This happens when the liquid in the front part of the eye doesn't circulate the way it should.Normally, the fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of your eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, the liquid builds up. That’s what causes glaucoma. The reason for the blockage is unknown, but doctors do know it can be inherited, meaning it’s passed from parents to children.
Less common causes include a blunt or chemical injury to your eye, severe eye infection, blocked blood vessels inside the eye, and inflammatory conditions. It’s rare, but sometimes eye surgery to correct another condition can bring it on. It usually affects both eyes, but it may be worse in one than the other.
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
Your doctor may use prescription eye drops, laser surgery, or microsurgery.
- Eye drops. These either reduce the formation of fluid in the eye or increase its outflow. Side effects may include allergies, redness, stinging, blurred vision, and irritated eyes. Some glaucoma drugs may affect your heart and lungs. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you’re taking or are allergic to.
- Laser surgery. This procedure can slightly increase the flow of the fluid from the eye for people with open-angle glaucoma. It can stop fluid blockage if you have angle-closure glaucoma. Procedures include:
- Trabeculoplasty: Opens the drainage area
- Iridotomy: Makes a tiny hole in the iris to let fluid flow more freely
- Cyclophotocoagulation: Treats areas of the middle layer of your eye to reduce fluid production
- Microsurgery. In an procedure called a trabeculectomy, the doctor creates a new channel to drain the fluid and ease eye pressure. Sometimes this form of glaucoma surgery fails and has to be redone. Your doctor might implant a tube to help drain fluid. Surgery can cause temporary or permanent vision loss, as well as bleeding or infection.
Open-angle glaucoma is most often treated with various combinations of eye drops, laser trabeculoplasty, and microsurgery. Doctors in the U.S. tend to start with medications, but there’s evidence that early laser surgery or microsurgery could work better for some people.