Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that can lead to vision loss through damage to the optic nerve. There are many types of glaucoma including normal tension glaucoma, congenital (pediatric) glaucoma and secondary glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma includes pseudoexfoliative glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma, traumatic glaucoma, neovascular glaucoma, and irido corneal endothelial syndrome. However, the two main types of glaucoma are primary open-angle glaucoma and acute angle-closure glaucoma (MayoClinic.org 2015). Oftentimes, glaucoma can damage a person’s vision so slowly that they barely notice until the disease has progressed significantly.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting three million Americans. In a healthy eye, fluid flows throughout chambers from behind the iris to the front, nourishing and cleansing the inside of the eye. If you think of the eye as a sink, this fluid can build up due to either production of excessive fluid or a clogged drain. This increased inner eye pressure kills nerve cells in the optic nerve, causing loss of vision.
Acute angle-closure glaucoma is much rarer than primary open-angle glaucoma. Unlike primary glaucoma, eye pressure rises rapidly due to increased blockage of the drainage canals. In acute glaucoma, the iris is not as wide and open as it should be. The outer edge of the iris bunches over the drainage canal when the pupil enlarges too much or too quickly, such as when entering a dark room.
Who gets glaucoma?
In the U.S., over three million people are slated to have glaucoma by 2030, and over five million by 2050. Unfortunately, most people are unaware that they have the disease. As our population ages, the number of people with glaucoma is expected to rise. Another ten million Americans have high intraocular pressure and are at risk for glaucoma.
Who’s most at risk?
- African Americans
- People with extreme nearsightedness
- Long-term steroid users
- People with other eye diseases
- People who have had eye surgery
Though glaucoma typically affects adults over the age of 35, children can experience congenital glaucoma. With this rare form of glaucoma, children are born with a defect in the angle of the eye that slows down the normal drainage of fluid. Symptoms include cloudy eyes, sensitivity to light and excessive tearing.
What are the symptoms?
For most people with glaucoma, there are no symptoms. Up to 40 percent of the optic nerve can be damaged before any vision loss is noticed. This is why an annual eye exam conducted by your eye doctor is key to diagnosing glaucoma.