Glaucoma: Symptoms, Causes, Types, and Treatment Options
 

Glaucoma: Symptoms, Causes, Types, and Treatment Options

Regularly visit your eye doctor to catch glaucoma early
Read Time: 4.5 minutes
Oct 25, 2021

Glaucoma is a common eye condition that primarily affects older adults, although it can technically happen at any age, even in children. In those over the age of 60, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. Glaucoma damages the optic nerve by causing unusually high pressure in the eye. Some forms of glaucoma can come on very gradually and the people suffering from them don’t notice until it’s too late.

Eye damage from glaucoma is not reversible. Regular visits to the eye doctor can help catch glaucoma in its early stages.

What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma

The signs and symptoms of glaucoma that you should be on the lookout for include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Pain in the eye
  • Eye redness
  • Hazy-looking eye (especially in infants)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What Causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma diagram

There is fluid inside the eye called aqueous humor. In a healthy eye, this fluid drains out of the eye so that it can be replaced by fresh aqueous humor. In most types of glaucoma, the mesh-like channels through which the fluid usually drains are blocked, causing the fluid to build up. This causes pressure within the eye that can cause pain and that can also affect vision. It’s unknown exactly what causes the channels in the eye to become blocked, but the tendency can be hereditary.

Sometimes, glaucoma is caused by an injury to the eye. Such an injury can be either with a blunt instrument or can be caused by chemicals. Glaucoma could also be caused by an eye infection or blocked blood vessels within the eye. These causes are much less common than blocked channels that prevent fluid from draining, however.

What Types of Glaucoma Are There?

Glaucoma is an umbrella term for multiple eye conditions that all affect the optic nerve. Although in general, all types of glaucoma have a similar effect on the eye in that high pressure causes optic nerve damage and gradual loss of vision, the symptoms and treatment may differ.

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. This type of glaucoma comes on very gradually and is usually painless. This means that it often goes unnoticed for a long time. In open-angle glaucoma, fluid can’t drain from the eye because of a clog or because the eye is producing too much fluid. This results in a buildup of pressure that can then damage the eye’s optic nerve.

What Are the Symptoms of Open-Angle Glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma usually doesn’t have any symptoms early on. People who have it may notice a decrease in their peripheral vision. They may also find that they’re missing letters when they’re reading or find that they don’t see all the objects around them.

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

In acute angle-closure glaucoma, the cornea and the iris move closer together within the eye. The name of this type of glaucoma comes from the closing of the angle between the two parts of the eye. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is painful and causes fluid to build up in the eye because it can’t drain properly, causing pressure within the eye that can damage the optic nerve.

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma?

The symptoms of acute angle-closure glaucoma can include:

  • Pain in the eye
  • Severe headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Redness in the eye
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Different-sized pupils
  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Halos or rainbows around lights

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

Normal-tension glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged even though the pressure levels in the eye are normal. In most types of glaucoma, high pressure in the eye causes the damage. Because eye pressure is normal in normal-tension glaucoma, doctors don’t know exactly what can cause it. It’s possible that the optic nerve might be extra sensitive or the eyes aren’t getting enough blood flow.

What Are the Symptoms of Normal-Tension Glaucoma?

Similar to open-angle glaucoma, normal-tension glaucoma doesn’t have any symptoms early on. The first sign of the condition is the loss of peripheral vision. Vision narrows as the condition worsens.

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Man adding eye drops to eye

The first step in treating glaucoma is eye drops. Your eye doctor typically prescribes eye drops that can help to alleviate the pressure that has built up in the eye. If you have acute angle-closure glaucoma, you may also be prescribed pain medication. If eye drops and pills don’t work, then laser therapy is the next step. This treatment can open up the drainage canals in the eye so that fluid can drain properly. If the laser treatment doesn’t work, then the next step may be surgery.

Can glaucoma be prevented?

Glaucoma can’t be prevented. However, if it’s caught in its early stages, damage to the eye may be prevented or slowed. For this reason, it’s vital to make regular appointments with your eye doctor. Several types of glaucoma don’t have any symptoms early on and can cause a lot of damage before it’s detected. Keeping up with your eye appointments can help to identify the problem before it can cause too much damage.

What are the first signs that glaucoma is developing?

The first sign of glaucoma is usually the loss of peripheral vision. Another early sign of glaucoma is seeing halos around lights. For some types of glaucoma, there aren’t early warnings and the sudden loss of some vision is the first sign that there’s a problem.

What does vision look like with glaucoma?

People with glaucoma may experience blurred vision. Peripheral vision is affected, so they may have difficulty seeing anything not in front of them. Glaucoma can also make it more difficult to see contrast. People with glaucoma may also experience a glare and may need more light to see well.

At what age do you usually get glaucoma?

Glaucoma can technically occur at any age, even in children, but it’s most common in older adults, particularly those over the age of 60.