Did you know that the term “glaucoma” doesn’t refer to a single disease? The fact is that glaucoma describes a group of eye conditions that cause progressive damage to your optic nerve—a bundle of nerve fibers that transmits sensory data from your eyes to your brain.
Open-angle glaucoma (OAG) is the most common type of glaucoma. It’s the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., and the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
What Are the Symptoms of Open-Angle Glaucoma?
OAG progresses slowly, and the pressure inside your eye can build up over the course of several years without symptoms before the damage to your optic nerve is advanced enough to cause noticeable vision loss.
Without early identification and treatment, you’ll start to notice a dimming of peripheral, or side, vision at the outside corner of your eye. Frontal vision loss doesn’t usually occur until the late stages. It’s possible to have early- to middle-stage OAG and still have 20/20 vision in the front of your eye.
What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of OAG?
Though many factors can contribute to glaucoma development, the primary treatable risk factor is elevated internal eye pressure, known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Elevated IOP typically occurs when the fluid that nourishes your eye is unable to drain properly, whether because of overproduction of fluid or a defect in the eye’s drainage system.
Age and race are also risk factors. Most people who develop glaucoma are 60 years old or over, though Black people are at higher risk from age 40 onward.
Other Common Types of Glaucoma
While OAG is the most common form of the disease in the U.S., it is not the only type, by far. Other types include:
- Angle-closure glaucoma (ACG). This form can attack suddenly, building pressure rapidly and causing blindness within days if not treated immediately. Seek emergency medical attention at once if you experience sudden:
- Blurred vision and halos around bright lights
- Intense eye pain and redness
- Severe headaches, nausea, and vomiting
- Unexplained vision loss
- Normal-tension glaucoma (NTG). Like OAG, normal-tension glaucoma progresses slowly. Experts are uncertain about what causes NTG, since people with NTG have normal eye pressure. Risk factors for NTG include:
- Family history of NTG
- Heart conditions
- Japanese ancestry
- Low blood pressure
- Secondary glaucoma. Glaucoma that occurs as a result of an underlying medical conditions is called “secondary glaucoma.” Secondary glaucoma can usually be stopped, or at least slowed, with early treatment.
What Treatments Are Available for Glaucoma?
To-date, there are no therapies that cure or reverse nerve damage or vision loss, though innovative research is ongoing. Glaucoma treatment is intended to:
- Lower IOP
- Halt or delay further damage to your optic nerve
- Preserve your remaining vision
The form and phase of your glaucoma will influence your treatment. Available interventions for glaucoma currently include:
- Medication (in the form of eye drops, implants, or injections)
- Laser therapy
Early detection provides the best chance for a good outcome, so keep your regular eye exam appointments. If you receive a glaucoma diagnosis, speak with your vision care provider about all available options to find the one that will best suit your situation.
Reference: Ou, Y. (2020, June 15). I Was Diagnosed with Glaucoma: Now What? BrightFocus Foundation. https://www.brightfocus.org/glaucoma/article/i-was-diagnosed-glaucoma-now-what
By Margalo Eden