Glaucoma and Your Eyes
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often associated with a build-up of pressure inside the 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 the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.
Eye fatigue or eye strain is a common and annoying condition. The symptoms include tired, itching and burning eyes. Eye fatigue is rarely a serious condition. Effortless precautions at home, work, and outdoors may help prevent or reduce eye fatigue. But sometimes eye fatigue is a sign of an underlying condition that may need medical treatment. If eye fatigue persists despite taking simple precautions, see your doctor. This is especially important if your eye fatigue is associated with headaches.
Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from this increased pressure, it is important to see your eye doctor regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term visual loss occurs.
If you are over the age of 40 and if you have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently.
Why Does Pressure Rise in the Eye to Cause Glaucoma?
Glaucoma usually occurs when pressure in your eye increases. This can happen when eye fluid isn’t circulating normally in the front part of the eye.
Normally, this fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of the eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel becomes blocked, fluid builds up, causing glaucoma. The direct cause of this blockage is unknown, but doctors do know that it can be inherited, meaning it is passed from parents to children.
Less common causes of glaucoma include a blunt or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels in the eye, inflammatory conditions of the eye, and occasionally eye surgery to correct another condition. Glaucoma usually occurs in both eyes, but it may involve each eye to a different extent.
What Are the Types of Glaucoma?
There are two main types of glaucoma:
- Open-angle glaucoma. Also called wide-angle glaucoma, this is the most common type of glaucoma. The structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye does not flow properly through the drain of the eye, called the trabecular meshwork.
- Angle-closure glaucoma. Also called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma is less common but can cause a sudden build-up of pressure in the eye. Drainage may be poor because the angle between the iris and the cornea (where a drainage channel for the eye is located) is too narrow.
Who Gets Glaucoma?
Glaucoma most often occurs in adults over the age of 40, but it can also occur in young adults, children, and even infants. In African-Americans, glaucoma occurs more frequently and at an earlier age and with greater loss of vision.
You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:
- Are over age 40.
- Have a family history of glaucoma.
- Have poor vision.
- Have diabetes.
- Take certain steroid medications, such as prednisone.
What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
For most people, there are usually few or no symptoms of glaucoma. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease. Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should have a complete exam with an eye specialist every one to two years. Occasionally, intraocular pressure can rise to severe levels. In these cases, sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision or the appearance of halos around lights may occur.
If you have any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical care:
- Seeing halos around lights
- Vision loss
- Redness in the eye
- Eye that looks hazy (particularly in infants)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the eye
- Narrowing of vision (tunnel vision)