10 Facts about Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a medical condition that can cause vision loss and blindness through progressive damage to the optic nerve. The damage to the optic nerve is often caused by higher intraocular pressure than the eye can tolerate. The optic nerve is the nerve that transmits vision signals from the eye to the brain to allow us to see. Intraocular pressure can be a major causative factor in many cases of glaucoma. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.

Fact 1: Anyone can get glaucoma

Glaucoma can affect everyone, regardless of their age. Although glaucoma is more common in older individuals, young babies and young adults can also be affected by glaucoma. Glaucoma in babies is known as congenital glaucoma and usually occurs because the fluid drainage pathways in the eye have not properly formed.

Glaucoma

Fact 2: There is no cure for glaucoma

The optic nerve is an extension of the brain. As a result, vision loss due to glaucoma is irreversible. The treatments that are available for glaucoma can slow down or even stop it from progressing. Early diagnosis may save you from vision loss.

Treatments for glaucoma include medicated eye drops that can help in reducing eye pressure, surgeries that are helpful in draining aqueous fluid, and laser treatments that can lower intraocular pressure.

Fact 3: There are different types of glaucoma

There are different types of glaucoma, the classification is based on the underlying cause. Open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, congenital glaucoma, and secondary glaucoma are four major types of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type and has almost no signs and symptoms in the initial stage. The vision loss progresses slowly and patients may not even realise they have this condition until significant vision loss has already happened.

Angle-closure glaucoma is another type of glaucoma. In this condition, the eyes do not drain properly and can cause a sudden build-up of intraocular pressure. This is a medical emergency and the symptoms include blurry vision, red eye, nausea, and intense pain in the eye(s). If left untreated, angle-closure glaucoma can cause complete vision loss in a few days.

Congenital glaucoma is a rare condition that is genetically linked and affects babies.

Secondary glaucoma is caused because of another condition such as cataract or steroid medications that increases the intraocular pressure.

Fact 4: Glaucoma is a silent thief of sight

Glaucoma is often known as the “silent thief of sight” because the most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, can show almost no symptoms and cause irreversible damage and vision loss.

Peripheral vision is the first to be affected and patients might not even know they have lost a lot of their visual field until it is too late. Therefore, the best way to treat this disease is by early detection with eye tests. The causes and origins of glaucoma are subjects of ongoing scientific research around the world.

An example of a visual field test in a glaucoma patient.

Fact 5: Regular eye exams are the only way to diagnose early glaucoma

Early detection of glaucoma is essential for better outcomes and effective treatment. A comprehensive eye exam every one or two years is recommended for adults aged 65 years and older. Patients with higher risk of developing glaucoma, such as those with a strong family history, should get an eye exam from the age of 40. During the glaucoma exam, eye doctors check visual acuity, intraocular pressure, cornea thickness, anterior chamber angle, cataract and the optic nerve. A visual field test and OCT scan are usually performed.

An example of an optic nerve with glaucomatous “cupping” and damage

Fact 6: Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma

Some factors may increase your chances of developing glaucoma. In case these factors apply to you, regular eye examination are recommended. These factors are:

  • Age: the older you are, the higher the risk of glaucoma.
  • Ethnicity: African and Asian patients may have a greater risk of glaucoma.
  • Genetics: a strong family history of glaucoma makes it more likely for you to have glaucoma.
  • Steroid medications: steroid medications, especially eye drops and creams used around the eye, can increase the intraocular pressure and cause glaucoma.

Fact 7: The cause of glaucoma is still not very clear

Glaucoma is still a mystery for researchers and medical professionals because the cause is still not fully understood. Elevated pressure is known to lead to glaucoma, however people who have normal eye pressure can also develop glaucoma.

Fact 8: Glaucoma usually affects both eyes

It is a myth that glaucoma affects only one eye. Usually, it affects both eyes but one eye may be more severely affected than the other. As time passes, the disease can lead to vision loss in both eyes. 

Fact 9: Not all individuals with high eye pressure get glaucoma

High eye pressure is a factor in the evaluation of glaucoma, but it is possible to have normal eye pressure and still suffer from glaucoma. At least one third of people who have open-angle glaucoma with optic nerve damage have an intraocular pressure within the normal range. In addition, some people have eyes that can tolerate high eye pressure without glaucoma or optic nerve damage.

Fact 10: Glaucoma can put you at a higher risk of car accidents

The worsening of the visual field from glaucoma can lead you to be at a higher rate of risk of being involved in car accidents. There are strict rules around visual acuity and visual field requirements for private and commercial driver licences.

We hope that these facts about glaucoma have been informative for you. Most people have a fear of losing their eyesight and going blind. Staying informed about eye diseases like glaucoma is helpful in their prevention and treatment.